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Personality Characteristics and Health Psychology

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Personality Characteristics and Health Psychology


In the field of psychology, a growing interest in the interaction between physical and mental health has become apparent. Psychologists are beginning to realize the importance of treating a client as a whole unit with many working elements that are interdependent on each other. The term coined currently is the biopsychosocial approach. Here, it is recognized that the client's psychological makeup is interdependent on their current biological state, which is also dependent on the social spheres the client finds themselves in. The focus of this paper is to highlight the importance of the way in which a person's physical, psychological and social components interact.

The cross-over between psychology and physical health has taken two major distinctions: Health psychology and behavioral medicine. Health psychologist work in the areas of prevention, emphasizing healthy life style practices. Those of the behavioral medicine paradigm deal with clients that have illnesses (i.e.; atherosclerosis), and help them to live healthier lifestyles in order to reverse their condition, or help cope with their particular problem. For the purposes of this paper, the terms health psychology and behavioral medicine will be captured collectively under the term 'wellness psychology'. This term was chosen because it encompasses the lifestyle roles that people must practice in order to lead healthy lives.

Invariably, psychologists of all modalities must deal with a variety of personality traits in their clients. Some traits may be helpful in the person's everyday life. Other characteristics however may hinder how they function in their home, at work, or even at play. The perspective taken by a growing population of professionals has been that these traits, or personality characteristics, are better described as roles that can be played. Adopting this philosophy allows the client to realize that they can make changes in their lives by adjusting the parts that they play.

The wellness psychologist takes the perspective that particular maladaptive characteristics have negative outcomes on their physical health. Wellness psychologists also take time to identify personality characteristics that encourage good health or well being. In order to highlight the various issues that are important, three major topics will be covered: First a very brief history of perspectives in personal well-being and health will be outlined. Second, establishment of physical consequences from personality characteristics will be considered. Third, an overview of the positive and maladaptive characteristics (roles) that people practice will be looked at. Finally, some suggestions will be made as how to encourage role changes in the client's psychologist see in their practice.

A Brief Overview Of Psychological Antecedents To Physical Health

The concept of what constitutes a healthy person has been debated by philosophers and psychologist for many years. Implicit in many theories is the idea that harmony with other creatures and nature leads to well being with the self and others. One philosopher, Sydney Jourard (1974) captured this quality of the healthy person:

....What [a] healthy personality [must do is] enhance life, not only in the person himself, but also in other persons, and in the animals, plants, and fishes in the midst of which he lives. Look at the living beings which surround a person. Do these beings flourish as a consequence of contact with? Or does the person leave a swath of diminished functioning and death in his wake? (pg. 26)

From this philosophical perspective, one begins to see how a healthy personality is characterized with oneness with the self, the people around them, and all other creatures.

What about physical well being? Many philosophers have postulated that physical health is the result of a balanced inner life. Conversely, an imbalance with personal harmony has been characterized by some to lead to poor health. American Indians of the Oglala Sioux tribe express such an opinion. They believe that the maladaptive interaction of spiritual oneness and health resulting from disharmony with what they call the 'Nation Hoop' (Neihardt, 1972). Many of the Indian nations believe that every creature in existence is part of a "Nation Hoop". When one is not aliened with all the spirituality of all creatures, the result is a physical or mental manifestation. Thus, when the hoop is broken, it causes a shift in the balance of life. This perspective however takes on a distinctly spiritual tone that not all philosophers have written about.

Freud, being originally trained as a neurologist attempted to discover a link between psychological well-being and physical problems. While studying neurology, Freud began seeing several patients that presented with peculiar physical ailments that had no apparent physical etiology. This lead him to a theory of personality that attempted to explain the lack of physical evidence in problems of blindness, limb paralyses, etc. Freud's outlook throughout his career was rather pessimistic, viewing the individual as untamed and bad in nature. To him, a healthy personality was one who had the ability to love and to do productive work. Healthy personality was described as outcome of harmony among the id, ego and superego. This means an even balance where the id and superego are not overpowering the psychic resources of the ego. When the scales are tipped in either direction, the individual either acts too much based on primitive impulses (id), or becomes too restrictive based on moral ideals and taboos (superego). Psychological health according to Freud, as reported by Hales (1994) is manifested in the physical as well. Individuals who suffer from medical symptoms caused by hysteria were thought to have a psychological imbalance were the libido was raging with sexual tension. The neurosis from holding back an overly active libido taxes the egos ability which would eventually manifest itself as a physical problem. The way in which this was dealt with by Freud and his many predecessors was through hypnosis where these subconscious frustrations could be expressed. Remarkably, Freud reported that he cured many hysterics throughout his career.

Can Personality Characteristics be Antecedents to Poor



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