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There are many different types of personality theories.

The following lesson provides an overview of the three main types of personality theories and presents an example for each theory.

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Introduction to Personality Theories

Many clinical techniques for counseling and therapy have evolved out of the need to establish helping strategies based on personality theories. While there are many personality theories available to discuss, the following lesson provides information on the three main theories: psychodynamic, humanistic, and behaviorist. Let’s take a closer look at each of these and go over an example describing each theory in practice.

Psychodynamic Personality Theory

The first type of personality theory most people are familiar with or identify with is psychodynamic theory originally pioneered by Sigmund Freud in the 1890s. In his work, Freud discovered the usefulness of understanding different states of the brain.

This theory is used to treat mental health disorders and might include asking the client to discuss his or her dreams.The psychodynamic personality theory emphasizes the study of the client’s conscious and subconscious states. Further, the id, ego, and superego are explored in hopes of helping the client address the thinking issues associated with their mental health disorder.Many personality theories have since been developed out of Freud’s psychodynamic personality theory.

The field of psychology and psychiatry has evolved tremendously since Freud’s discussion of how brain function stimulates behavior. Let’s look at an example of how psychodynamic theory can be used in practice with a client.

Portrait of Sigmund Freud
Example: Psychodynamic

Let’s imagine that Freud is putting the psychodynamic theory into play with a female client. He would explain to her that her childhood experiences have shaped her adult perceptions of the world and how she behaves. If the client was struggling with self-esteem or lack of confidence, Freud may say that she was feeling that way as an adult because as a child, her parents did not provide her with the nurturing she needed to feel secure and confident.

Humanistic Personality Theory

In the 1940s, personality theorist Carl Jung developed the Meyer’s Brigg Personality Inventory to learn more about the introverted or extroverted personality traits of individuals.

His theory of helping evolved into what is called the humanistic approach.This approach means that the therapist or clinician is more interested in helping someone understand their own traits, such as introverted or extroverted traits. The humanistic personality theory focuses on identifying the strengths of an individual and helping them build on those.Individuals who are on the introverted side are typically quieter, a bit submissive, and enjoy activities on their own. Those who identify more on the extroverted side are usually very social, are born leaders and innovators, and like to work in groups and on projects with others. These are considered personality traits, and the humanistic personality theory focuses on those as the central theme of helping others.

Example: Humanistic

As discussed above, Carl Jung studied the personality types of people to include introversion and extroversion. If he were working with a male client, he might ask the client to explain what he likes to do, who he likes to do things with, and how he feels when he is around groups of people. The client might explain qualities about himself that peg him as being introverted or extroverted. Asking the client to identify with either side of the personality spectrum will assist in helping him overcome struggles.For example, if the client explained he is more comfortable working alone, having little to no supervision, and is not comfortable speaking in front of groups of people – he may be on the introverted side. Jung would help the client find solutions to help him feel more comfortable working with others and being in front of groups of people.

This theory is based on the human tendencies of introversion or extroversion, and once the personality type is identified, then the clinician can assist the client towards feeling better about any issues he presents.

Behaviorist Personality Theory

Of all categories of personality theories, the behaviorist category may be among the most popular and well known in today’s current use of theory. Some popular theorists in this category include John Watson, B.

F. Skinner, and Albert Bandura. The central theme around the behaviorist personality theory is that one’s behavior can be learned, and responses to situations can be met with either reward or consequence.When thinking about this theory, it is easy to remember the story of the dog and the bell. In his work, Ivan Pavlov trained a dog to salivate every time a bell rang.

In order to do this, Pavlov reprogrammed the dog’s behavior based on a reward system. When Pavlov would ring the bell, the dog would be given a treat, and eventually the dog would salivate with the sound of the bell even if a treat was not given.

Example: Behaviorist

The behaviorist personality theory states that one’s behavior is often a learned response or one’s behavior can be changed based on changing his or her thoughts. The above example of Pavlov’s experiment with the dog is a classic example used to demonstrate the behaviorist personality theory.But let’s look at an additional situation. Think of a time when you were sad or depressed. If you went to a therapist that worked from the behaviorist personality theory perspective, the therapist might tell you that your behaviors are a result of the way you think or that they come from learned behavior – something you have done over and over.

Therefore, a great way to resolve this type of issue is to change the way you think, resulting in changed behaviors. The clinician would help you identify new ways of behaving to help you feel better. This is, perhaps, among the most favorable personality theories in practice today.

Statue of Ivan Pavlov and his dog
Pavlov and his Dog

Lesson Summary

There are many personality theories to learn about and use if you are working with clients. However, the three most commonly discussed in the social sciences are psychodynamic, humanistic, and behaviorist theories. Each of these theories can be used in varying contexts depending on the nature of the problem the client has presented.

Key Terms

  • psychodynamic personality theory: emphasizes the study of the client’s conscious and subconscious states
  • humanistic personality theory: focuses on identifying the strengths of an individual and helping him or her to build on those
  • behaviorist personality theory: says that one’s behavior can be learned and responses to situations can be met with either reward or consequence

Learning Outcomes

When finished with the lesson, show that you can list the three main personality theories and provide examples of each.

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