Personality Psychologist Career Guide

The Basics

Think about the people you know at home, at work and in the neighborhood. Some may have a great sense of humor, some may be perpetually fearful, and others may have a strong defiant streak. Chances are their personalities are very different from one another. People display a wide range of personality traits that influence the way they interact with others. Our personality determines how we present ourselves to people, and how we react to the things that happen in our environment.

To gain insight into the personality of a patient, a personality psychologist may apply a number of theories and administer tests like the well-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MNTI). This test has been proven useful for people who are determining which career path to follow.

What is a Personality Psychologist?

A personality psychologist looks at how a patient’s personality affects the way they deal with the world around them. Psychologists look at how the personality causes people to act in social situations, how they react to other people, how they cope with problems, and how they handle the stress in their lives. An individual’s personality promotes habitual feelings and thought patterns, which in turn determine the individual’s attitudes and predispose the individual to behave in certain ways. Ultimately, the personality determines how people see themselves. The personality has a strong influence on what an individual expects out of life.

A personality psychologist helps people with personality disorders who may be having difficulty functioning and dealing effectively with the problems they face in life. Some personality psychologists believe that personality disorders result from biological or genetic influences, while others feel that they are caused by a person’s experiences early on that prevent normal development of thought and behavior patterns. Many psychologists believe that the development of personality is the result of both nature and nurture.

What are the Duties of a Personality Psychologist?

Personality psychologists study the personality differences between people to understand what makes each person unique. These factors can be cultural, conditional and situational and they may be common or specific to each person in a given environment. They have to consider the rationality behind certain actions of individuals.

Personality psychologists attempt to determine how our personality develops, and how our personality affects the way we behave and think. By understanding an individual’s personality, the psychologist can forecast how their patients will respond in various situations. They can also predict the things their patients will value, and the options they will prefer.

The personality psychologist uses frameworks like trait theories, psychoanalytic theories, behavioral theories and humanist theories to learn about the personality of their patients. Some personality psychologists focus on the theories that explain how the personality develops, while others concentrate on the differences between the personalities of individuals.

Like all psychologists, personality psychologists look at patients from a number of perspectives. A personality psychologist can diagnose a patient’s personality in order to help him overcome problems and achieve a higher level of function.

To be classified with a personality disorder, the patient must meet certain criteria established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV. These criteria include chronic patterns of behavior that affect many aspects of the person’s life; problems with emotions, interpersonal relationships and impulse control; a history of behavior patterns with an onset early in life; and the assurance that the behaviors are not caused by substance abuse or medical conditions. Some common personality disorders include paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCD).

Personality psychologists may question how much control individuals have over their behavior, and they may think about whether the patient’s personality is the result of genetics or life experiences to diagnose and treat patients. They may examine the extent to which an individual is unique or similar to others. They may also consider whether the person is acting through individual initiative, or as a reaction to their environment.

In forming a diagnosis and designing a treatment plan, the personality psychologist may analyze where the individual falls on the spectrum of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion and agreeableness. They take into consideration whether the person has a tendency to be neurotic by displaying anxiety and insecurity as opposed to being calm and satisfied. Others analyze the “H” factor – the tendency to be honest, loyal, fair and modest, as opposed to being sly, greedy, deceitful and hypocritical.

A personality psychologist may use personality tests to find out about the personality of the patient. A commonly used personality test, the Rorschach test, assesses people by how they respond to a series of note cards with ambiguous ink blots. Another such test is the Thematic Apperception Test, which asks the subject to tell a story about pictures.

Personality psychologists may observe the patient in social situations to determine how they are influenced by emotion. They might explain behavior in terms of attraction, conformity, aggression and persuasion in group interaction. Some personality psychologists specialize in conflict resolution, group behavior or leadership.

Where Do Personality Psychologists Work?

According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012, approximately 31 percent of all psychologists were employed in educational services. Another 29 percent were employed in social assistance and health care, while nearly a third were self-employed. Psychologists may be part of a healthcare team where they cooperate with other professionals such as social workers and physicians to treat patients and promote wellness. Others work alone and conduct independent research or patient counseling.

Psychologists in private practice work out of their own office, and others work in mental health centers, clinics, rehabilitation centers, and hospitals. Those in research typically work for governmental agencies, universities or private research organizations. Some train government officials, and others develop programs in the workplace to improve employee attitudes. Others analyze consumer trends in industry.

Why Do We Need Personality Psychologists?

Personality psychologists help people who are experiencing difficulty due to a personality issue. These difficulties may include self-destructive behaviors like gambling, substance abuse, self-mutilation and suicide attempts. People who have personality disorders may benefit from behavior and cognitive therapy administered by a personality psychologist. Psychologists help clients regulate their emotions and teach them alternative ways to deal with confusing, and often overwhelming feelings. By introducing clients to a technique termed mindfulness, the patient is able to observe their own emotions without reacting.

Personality psychologists are needed to help people with a dysfunctional belief system overcome their problems. They eliminate harmful beliefs by having the client discuss and reinterpret experiences that happened early in their lives. Some individuals with borderline personality disorders may think of themselves as bad people, and they interpret their experiences in such a way that these beliefs are confirmed. Cognitive therapy by a personality therapist can help change the way people think of themselves. The psychologist is needed to guide people in understanding the origins of their dysfunctional beliefs as the first step toward changing them. They resolve conflicts and help people dispel negative traits like aggression.

What Degree is Required to Become a Personality Psychologist?

Psychologists generally are required to have a doctoral degree or a specialist degree in personality psychology. A master’s degree may be sufficient for some psychologist positions. Most states require a practicing psychologist to have a license or certification, and those who practice independently must have a license in all states. Licensing laws vary by state.

Counseling and clinical psychologists must have a doctorate degree in psychology, along with an internship and a minimum of one to two years of professional experience. They also must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Aspiring personality psychologists can obtain state requirements by contacting the Association of State and Provincial Licensing Board. Psychologists need to have completed an internship, a residency program or pre or post doctoral supervised experience. Personality psychologists complete doctoral degree programs requiring four to five years of training and education, and a research oriented dissertation in personality psychology.

Aspiring personality psychologists typically graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or coursework in introductory psychology, experimental psychology and statistics in order to apply for a master’s degree program. While some doctoral degree programs require a master’s degree in psychology, others accept a bachelors’ degree with a major in psychology.

Psychologists generally take coursework in general psychology, the history of psychology, physiological psychology, cognitive psychology, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology as well as personality psychology. Personality psychology courses present theories of personality development including humanistic, Freudian, psychosocial and behavioral theories. Statistics courses teach students methodology for investigating human behavior, and experimental psychology coursework teaches basic research methods and experimental design.

What Does it Take to Become a Personality Psychologist?

  • Observational Skills: A personality psychologist must be capable of reading people’s actions, facial expressions, body language, behavior and social interactions to study people’s attitudes and behaviors and come to the right conclusion.
  • Communication Skills: A personality psychologist needs excellent communication skills to listen to what their patients are telling them, and to get their message across to patients.
  • Analytic Skills: A personality psychologist gathers information through interviews, tests and observations, and they need analytical skills to draw conclusions from the information.
  • Problem-solving Skills: A personality psychologist needs to create the best action plan for treatment to solve behavioral problems.
  • People Skills: A personality psychologist should be capable of working well with clients and other healthcare professionals over the course of treatment, which may take some time.

How Much Does a Personality Psychologist Make?

According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for psychologists exclusive of industrial-organizational psychologists and clinical, counseling and school psychologists in May, 2012 was $90,020.

Industrial-organizational psychologists earned a median annual salary of $83,580, and clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned $67,650.

The median average wage for all psychologists was $69,280, with the lowest salaried 10 percent earning less than $38,720 and the top 10 percent earning over $110,880. The job outlook for the years 2012 – 2013 is an increase of 12 percent, as fast as average for all occupations.

What is the Difference Between a Social Psychologist and a Personality Psychologist?

Social psychology is the study of how an individual’s behaviors, feelings and thoughts are influenced by social interactions. Social psychologists study people and their relationship with others. They also study people in their relationship with groups, and with society. They may find methods of improving negative interactions.

On the other hand, personality psychologists look at an individual’s traits and behaviors and determine how they impact individual and group situations. They observe social situations to find out how they are influenced by an individual’s conduct and emotion.

What Careers are Similar to Personality Psychology?

  • Special Education Teachers: Special education teachers help students with a range of disabilities, by adapting general education lessons. The minimum education requirement is a bachelor’s degree.
  • Social Workers: Social workers help people cope with issues that come up in their everyday lives. In most cases, a bachelor’s or master’s degree is required.
  • School and Career Counselors: School counselors help students with developing the social skills they need to be successful in school. Career counselors help people make appropriate career decisions. The minimum education requirement is a master’s degree.
  • Postsecondary Teachers: Postsecondary teachers conduct research, publish scholarly books and papers and instruct students in a range of subjects above the high school level. To work at a technical school, a postsecondary teacher may only need an associate degree to teach at that level, in addition to work experience or certification.
  • Market Research Analysts: Market research analysts look at the potential sale of a product or service to advise companies about who will buy and the price they are willing to pay. A bachelor’s degree is required.

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