What is a personality psychologist? (With career guide)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

People often experience anxieties, pressures and emotions that can vary between different personalities. A personality psychologist is a licensed health care professional who can help people manage their behaviour and attitudes with structured programmes. If you want to become a personality psychologist, there is a straightforward pathway to full licensing and accreditation. In this article, we answer the question 'What is a personality psychologist?' and give a complete career guide, with essential skills and typical duties.

What is a personality psychologist?

Personality psychologists study how humans feel, think and react to stimuli in the outside world using observations, interviews and psychometric testing. While there is some overlap, personality psychology focuses on internal mechanisms that determine behaviour, while social psychology focuses on external influences. Some personality psychologists specialise in their field, but many enter related disciplines, such as psychotherapy, social work and counselling. Most clinical psychologists work in public health, but personality psychologists often prefer to work in private practice.

Related: What's the difference between clinical and counselling psychology?

What does a personality psychologist do?

On a practical level, personality psychologists either help people manage their psychological wellbeing or improve their mindset. Frequent consultations and psychometric testing allow them to diagnose their clients and build structured programmes to help them manage their issues. Most personality psychologists are therapeutic and help people to manage disorders, such as OCD, ADHD, addictions and narcissism. Some personality psychologist consultants specialise in helping business people learn how to adjust their approach and mindset towards success.

Related: 10 skills to be a psychologist and excel in your career

Typical duties for personality psychologists

Personality psychologists usually conduct the typical duties you would expect of a health care professional. Here are some examples of the common duties of personality psychologists in both professional and academic capacities:

  • Meeting patients: A psychologist's primary duty is to meet with patients to discuss their issues and what they would like to resolve. Being able to communicate effectively and sensitively with a variety of people in this environment is an essential skill.

  • Researching conditions: Often, a patient's particular problem may manifest in an unusual way, with various symptoms or effects unique to their situation. The ability to research different conditions and effective ways of managing them means you can help every client in the best possible way.

  • Constructing programmes: Once you have diagnosed a patient, you can build a structured support and guidance programme to help them manage their problems. This can involve using applied research to trial different methods to help them or prescribing certain types of therapy.

  • Attending events: Personality psychologists in academia and professional positions often attend conferences and seminars concerning developments in their field. If you work for corporate clients, these events can help you stay up to date on the latest thinking to provide relevant advice.

  • Supervising trainees: In senior positions, you may expect to supervise and train new professionals on the job. In management positions, you may even manage a team or a whole practice, so cultivating leadership skills is essential.

  • Keeping records: A psychologist keeps accurate patient records and may communicate these reports to public health providers. They keep up-to-date records of their practice and quality of service to demonstrate its value to clients.

  • Writing reports and papers: A psychologist often writes reports on a patient's progress or the results of a study. Research psychologists frequently write studies and papers to publish their research in journals and collections.

  • Presenting data: Psychologists sometimes present information to clients or in meetings using figures, data and verbal explanations. If you work in a research setting, such as academia, you may also present at conferences or in lectures.

How to become a personality psychologist

A personality psychologist's career path follows the standard route for psychology, specialising in behaviour at degree level and beyond. Here is a step-by-step guide to becoming an accredited personality psychologist:

1. Get an undergraduate degree

After achieving high A-Levels, the first step to starting your psychology career is to get an undergraduate degree in psychology. It's standard practice to enrol in a general psychology degree and later specialise in personality psychology, but some institutions may specialise early. A psychology degree teaches you the fundamental ideas behind behavioural science and gives you helpful interdisciplinary knowledge for when you specialise. If you already have a different degree, graduate conversion courses or master's degrees often accept candidates from similar disciplines, so it isn't mandatory. Undergraduate degrees may also offer placements, which can provide useful experience.

Related: What it takes to be a social psychologist (with definition)

2. Acquire relevant experience

Any opportunity to interact with and help people with health difficulties may serve as useful experience for your career. Volunteer work in nursing, social work and mental health care or helping people with disabilities can be particularly useful. For psychology jobs and courses, many institutions and employers value experience as an assistant psychologist in a public practice, so these places are competitive. Some doctorate courses have a minimum work-experience requirement of a year, so try to get experience early and check entry requirements carefully. An opportunity like an internship can be valuable if you have limited options.

Related: What are psychology internships and how to find them

3. Get involved with events

Supplementary events like research seminars, conferences and lectures either within your institution or with external bodies can assist your learning. New ideas and approaches to treatment, health care and disorders are constantly developing and adapting as research continues. Staying up to date with the newest developments can be useful for coming up with programmes and understanding your future clients. If you want to go into research, these are also an excellent opportunity to network with current professionals, researchers and other students.

Related: What is a business psychologist? (Plus course programmes)

4. Take graduate qualifications

Undergraduate and master's degrees give you the accreditation to work as an assistant psychologist and proceed to further studies. If you want to work as a fully-fledged licensed psychologist, either in the public sector, in private practice or as a consultant, begin applying to graduate opportunities. Most doctoral courses involve a full-time three-year degree with a public placement as a trainee psychologist, following a structured training and research programme with a salary. At the end, your institution can guide you through the process of getting your licence to practise.

5. Decide what sort of psychology career to pursue

The public sector typically has a clear career structure of pay bands you can quickly proceed through if you choose to work in public health. Alternatively, many practitioners specialising in personality psychology choose to work privately, which can have a more varied pay scale. With sufficient experience, moving into a consultant-level role can lead to higher salaries and flexible schedules. You can also get involved in teaching and supervising other psychologists or further research in the field. Successful careers may lead to lucrative positions as head of department or senior lecturing posts and research positions.

Related: Your guide to psychology jobs and common careers

6. Apply for personality psychologist jobs

When your training and education are complete and you have a licence to practice, you can apply to posts as a registered personality psychologist. General and specific job search boards for both private and public practices advertise entry-level and senior positions. If you're looking for research positions, searching the websites of different institutions and their social media accounts can help you find opportunities. With sufficient experience and education, recruitment agencies can also offer otherwise inaccessible opportunities with companies.

Related: How to become a psychologist in the UK

Useful skills for a personality psychologist

Personality psychologists use a broad specialist toolkit of soft skills to approach their jobs, which involve a lot of communication and interpersonal interactions. Here are some examples of essential skills for personality psychologists:

  • Empathy: Understanding a client's situation often requires great empathy and the ability to temporarily put aside your own values. Try to see things from their perspective and use your knowledge with their feelings in mind to put together a sensitive treatment programme.

  • Critical thinking: Patients can sometimes give conflicting or inaccurate information due to the sensitivity of a subject or their lack of understanding. Developing critical thinking can help you truly understand what is going on.

  • Self-motivation: Both during your education and while you work, it's essential to have a sensible work ethic and the ability to motivate yourself. Your diligence, dedication and attention to detail contribute greatly to the quality of your work, especially in freelance or private practice.

  • Conflict management: Your clients may respond negatively to your suggestions, and your ability to deliver difficult news sensitively can affect their mental health. If a client begins to behave threateningly or you fear for your safety, a valuable skill is to be able to follow procedures to de-escalate the situation safely.

  • Interdisciplinary knowledge: Your clients may not only be experiencing psychological difficulties but also physical ailments and other issues that provide valuable context for their behaviour. A broad understanding of health and an ability to communicate with other health care professionals improves your ability to help your patients.

  • IT skills: You may regularly work with online scheduling systems to book appointments and use specialist spreadsheets and database software to keep patient records. Learning to create reports, figures and sheets in this software is easier with prior experience of more generic office software.

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