Mental healthcare providers tend to have heightened agreeableness and neuroticism, but lower conscientiousness

A study of personality traits showed that mental healthcare providers tend to have more pronounced agreeableness and neuroticism compared to the general population. In contrast, their conscientiousness level was lower on average. The study was published in Psychological Studies.

Basic personality traits influence broad aspects of our behavior and many of our preferences. In mental health work, personalities of both providers and clients play an important role in determining how their relationship will develop. However, studies that examined the personality traits of mental health providers are few.

One of the broadest concepts of personality is the Big 5 personality model. This model consists of 5 personality traits – Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to experience, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. People with pronounced neuroticism are prone to mood swings, anxiety, irritability and sadness. Pronounced extraversion makes people enjoy being the center of attention, like to start conversations, meet new people, make new friends easily and generally feel energized when around people.

Openness to experience is a trait pronounced in creative people, who like to try new things, and who love thinking about abstract concepts. Agreeableness is the trait that makes people be interested in caring for others, helping and assisting them and feeling empathy for them. Finally, people with pronounced conscientiousness tend to be well organized, mindful of details, like to prepare in advance and have a set schedule.

Studies have shown that certain professions tend to attract people with certain specific personality characteristics. The authors of this study wanted to explore the personality traits of mental health providers and see whether the personalities of people in this group had any specificities compared to the general population. They were also interested in examining providers’ preferences for personalities of potential clients.

Participants were 176 mental healthcare providers. They were recruited through emails sent to various organizations. A majority of participants lived in the USA and identified as White (86%) and heterosexual (75.6%). Participants were mostly female (81%) and their ages ranged from 22 to 76.

The mental healthcare providers were compared with a sample from the general population that consisted of 305 participants taken from the public database of the Eugene-Springfield Community Sample. This general population sample was selected because it was used in previous studies of personality.

Participants completed an assessment of the Big 5 personality traits (Mini-IPIP) and gave descriptions of the personality of a preferred client (Mini-IPIP with the following instruction: “Describe a client that you would most like to work with in your role as a mental healthcare service provider. Consider what type of person you would most likely choose to work with, in comparison to other clients…”).

Additionally, the researchers asked participants to directly rate the Big 5 traits of a preferred client using slider scales. Descriptions of Big 5 traits were provided for these ratings that were derived from the NEO-Personality Inventory-3.

Results showed that mental healthcare providers had, on average, much higher agreeableness compared to the general population sample. Contrary to what the researchers expected, they also had higher average neuroticism. Average conscientiousness of healthcare providers was somewhat lower than that of the group from the general population. Openness to experience was somewhat higher on average. There was no difference on extraversion.

When preferences for clients were considered, results differed depending on the assessment method used. One finding obtained using both methods of assessment showed that healthcare providers higher in extraversion and conscientiousness tended to prefer clients who were also higher on these traits. Healthcare providers with higher neuroticism preferred clients who were more extraverted and open to experience. Finally, providers who were more open to experience preferred clients to be lower on conscientiousness. Some additional links were also detected.

“Findings support the idea that providers have unique personality characteristics relative to the general population and unique preferences regarding client personality. These findings can stimulate future research regarding the impact of providers’ preferences and personality on therapeutic process and outcomes,” the study authors conclude.

The study provides a valuable contribution to the exploration of links between vocational choice and personality. However, it also has limitations that need to be taken into account. Notably, all assessments were based on self-reports and some of the assessments were modified by the researchers. Both of these could have influenced the results in unwanted ways.

The study, “An Initial Examination of Mental Healthcare Providers’ Big 5 Personality and Their Preferences for Clients”, was authored by Taylor R. Rodriguez and Joye C. Anestis.


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