The Application of Personality Perspectives to Counseling and Therapy

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The Application of Personality Perspectives to Counseling and Therapy Brian J. Langtry

While a few different schools of thought dominated the early years of psychology, the number of topics studied by psychologists has grown dramatically since the early 1960s. Today, few psychologists identify their outlook according to a particular school of thought. While you may still find some pure behaviorists or psychoanalysts, the majority of psychologists instead categorize their work according to their specialty area and perspective.

The Dispositional perspective. The dispositional perspective is the traditional, classic approach to the psychological study of personality.  The dispositional approach creates systems for classification and describing psychological characteristics for which people differ consistently between situations and over time. The “trait” approach most clearly emphasizes the dispositional perspective but another way to approach the concept of dispositions is to consider people as “types” or alternatively to view people’s dispositions in terms of their enduring motivational characteristics that vary in strength from person to person (i.e. their needs and motives). A dispositional approach to personality emphasizes • “qualities that people carry around with them, that are somehow part of them” (Carver & Scheier, 2000, p.54) • “a person’s inherent qualities of mind and character”

Personality traits are:
• consistently found (across people and over time) dimensions of thinking, behavior and feeling • allow people individuals to be placed in a continuum with respect to different traits (e.g, introversion-extraversion, neuroticism-emotional stability)

Personality types refers to:
• categoric descriptions of characteristic patterns of thinking, behavior and feeling e.g., (Type A personality vs. Type B personality)

Two major, underlying assumptions

There are two major assumptions underlying a dispositional approach:

1. Stability of personality

People display consistency in their actions, thoughts, and feelings between situations and over time. In other words, unpredictability is the exception rather than the rule (i.e. unpredictability doesn’t define the essence of personality).  Note that some psychologists, such as social psychologists, would argue that too much emphasis is placed on the stability of personality. The idea behind this assumption is that you are the same person you used to be and will be in the future.

2. Differences between people.

The composition of dispositions varies from person to person. Each person’s personality consists of a pattern of dispositional qualities which form a unique combination in each person.

Major issues and topics related to the dispositional perspective include: • How many personality types are there and what are they? • How many personality traits are there and what are they? • To what extent are the various personality types and traits are heritable? • What is the relative influence of situational influences vs. personality dispositions in determining thinking, behavior and feeling in specific, real situations? • To what extent do personality dispositions change over time? • Are there personality differences between

o people of different ages?
o men and women?
o people who work in different types of jobs?
o across cultures, ethnic groups, nations?

The Biological perspective. The study of physiology played a major role in the development of psychology as a separate science. Today, this perspective is known as biological psychology. Sometimes referred to as biopsychology or physiological psychology, this perspective emphasizes the physical and biological bases of behavior. This perspective has grown significantly over the last few decades, especially with advances in our ability to explore and...
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