How to Become a Personality Psychologist

What is Personality Psychology?

Personality psychology is a branch of psychology that investigates human nature and the psychological similarities and differences among individuals. This branch studies the cognitions, emotions, motivations, behavior, feelings and social adjustments of people. Personality psychology is primarily a research field, so personality psychologists are generally trained to study patients but aren’t trained to treat them.

Personality psychology looks at the uniqueness of individuals, how we are all different from one another, specifically in regards to our personalities, our thoughts, our behaviors, and how we function in general. Personality psychology also looks at how people are similar, how can we make sense of human nature as a whole or within groups of people. More specifically, as a personality psychologist, you might look at how individual behaviors, such as aggression, attraction, conformity, or submissiveness affect a group setting or how individuals function in their daily life.

What Does a Personality Psychologist Do?

Personality psychologists consider the behaviors and personality traits of individuals, how they develop and examine the effect they can have on outcomes in particular situations. Most broadly they are concerned with the similarities of personalities as well as the personality differences between individuals. They often observe situations to determine how they are impacted upon by the individuals involved, as well as studying individuals more specifically through personality testing.

Psychologists in this field often work within a niche – such as conflict resolution or leadership – and provide insight into improvement after observing individuals in particular scenarios. Personality psychologists can be employed by industry or governments to assess areas such as persuasion or group interactions. Their feedback can be on personal improvement of management or high-level officials, but it can also provide the basis for staff initiatives or insight into customer trends and behaviors.

Some personality psychologists also work within non-profit or healthcare settings, working with people who have personality disorders. Additionally, they can be employed within university research and teaching roles looking more broadly at areas including the psychological differences of personality as well as similarities between individuals. Their research may also focus on furthering the understanding of personality disorders.

Many personality psychologists pursue academics or research and work in a university setting. Most personality psychologists are highly trained in conducting and evaluating research. They want to further the knowledge that society has regarding how people function, how personalities are shaped, what makes us each unique, and what makes us the same. In the university setting, depending on the particular environment, you might have a combination of teaching courses related to general psychology, personality psychology, and other areas of interest to you or of need to the department you work in.

What are the Requirements to Become a Personality Psychologist?

In order to become a personality psychologist, you need to obtain a college degree at least to the level of a master’s degree. Ideally, however, most employers would prefer (and may require) a Ph.D. in the field. If you want to work as a professor, in research or practice independently, you need a Ph.D. for sure (licensure is required for independent practice)

Throughout your education, you will be required to obtain certain types of training, such as internships. Also, you are required to go through a process of fees and testing in order to obtain licensure. Each state varies on the exact costs, procedures, and requirements. In most states, licensure is required for practicing psychology and to use the title “psychologist”. Requirements for licensure generally include (but not limited to) an APA accredited doctoral degree in psychology, supervised experience under a licensed psychologist, and passing licensure examination (some states have additional requirements).

Also, continuing education (which means a certain amount of trainings, such as a two day seminar or a webinar) is required yearly to keep up on current knowledge.

What is Studied in Personality Psychology?

As mentioned above, personality psychology is the study of the unique characteristics that make people individuals. Specifically, personality psychology is concerned with the way individuals behave, how they experience feelings and express emotions, and the patterns that govern how people think. These explorations fall under two broad areas of study in personality psychology:

  • Examining the personality characteristics that make each person distinctive, such as whether they are introverted or extroverted.
  • Determining the manner in which the individual parts of one’s personality come together as a whole.

Much of the study of personality psychology revolves around pathological personality characteristics. Psychologists often study and work with individuals that have a personality disorder, such as histrionic, borderline, or antisocial personality disorder. Psychologists that study personality are also interested in how mental illness, such as depression or schizophrenia, impact the expression of one’s personality.

Studying personality psychology includes an examination of the major theories of personality development as well. There are many, varying schools of thought regarding how personality develops. Three primary perspectives on personality that are studied in personality psychology programs include:

  • Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory – which states that unconscious processes underlie the majority of personality functions.
  • The neo-psychoanalytic theory of Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, and Karen Horney – which posits that conscious factors, including those of a social nature, are integral to the formation of personality.
  • John Watson and B.F. Skinner’s behavioral theory – which claims that personality is the observable result of reinforcement.

Students learning personality psychology explore methods to evaluate and assess personality characteristics as well. This includes two well-known personality tests, the Rorschach and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). In the former, subjects examine inkblots and explain what they see. In the latter, subjects look at images of various people and settings and explain what is going on in the scene. In both tests, the goal is to have the client project his or her own unique personality characteristics onto the image.

What Skills are Needed for a Personality Psychologist?

Observational skills – Personality psychologists often work with groups of people large and small to determine how an individual’s behavior, emotions, and feelings can impact their interactions with others. As a result, personality psychologists must have keen observational skills that allow them to observe and understand the manner in which people interact with one another and the implications of those interactions.

Communication skills – As with any type of psychologist, personality psychologists must have very strong communication skills that allow them to establish clear lines of communication with the individuals and groups with which they are working. Personality psychologists must be adept at posing questions in a non-threatening way, offering feedback in a manner that encourages growth and self-exploration, and addressing sensitive topics in a way that builds trust.

Ability to empathize – One of the most critical skills for any psychologist is empathy. Though personality psychologists don’t usually conduct individual therapy, it is nonetheless essential that they be able to see the world through others’ eyes and provide each person with whom they interact a sense of understanding and security regardless of the problem or issue with which they are struggling.

Strong sense of self – Because personality psychologists examine how individuals interact with one another, it is of the utmost importance that they understand their own personality, how the interpret situations, and how they interact with others. Furthermore, it is imperative that personality psychologists be able to assess the behaviors of others in a manner that is free of bias, that is, they must understand the types of people and behaviors that might trigger their own very strong feelings and learn how to set those feelings aside such that they can perform the duties assigned to them.

What are the Career Opportunities in Personality Psychology?

Personality psychologists are employed by a wide variety of organizations, in both the public and private sector. The following are some of the diverse settings where personality psychologists are likely to find work.

  • Research and Teaching: Colleges and universities need professors on staff to teach courses in personality psychology. Since personality psychology is a steadily growing field, where the need for new research is ongoing, there are many opportunities for research work at these institutions, too.
  • Private Sector: Corporations and consulting firms hire personality psychologists to evaluate company hiring practices and administer and score personality tests used to help select applicants for certain jobs. Personality psychologists may also be called in as marketing consultants.
  • Government and Nonprofit: Personality psychologists also do testing and consulting work for government organizations, as well as for schools, hospitals, and community organizations.

What is the Salary of a Personality Psychologist?

As of May 2015, the average annual salary of a psychologist is $93,050 (bls.gov). However, this amount can vary depending on the agency you work for, the population you are serving or working with, and the location you are employed in.

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