A person considering a degree or career in counseling, social work, psychology or psychiatry should know the answer to, “What is a personality disorder?” Physicians and scientists estimate that about 9 percent of American adults have at least one personality disorder. A personality disorder is usually diagnosed by a licensed clinical psychologist, family doctor, internal medicine doctor or psychiatrist, based on criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Related resource: The 25 Best Masters in Counseling Online Programs
Abnormal Way of Thinking
Mental health professionals define personality disorders as an abnormal way of thinking. This abnormal thought pattern or feeling is different from what most other people experience. Most personalities develop at a young age, and they remain consistent over a person’s lifetime. For example, a person who is an introvert as a child will likely remain an introvert as an adult. When it comes to a personality disorder, the abnormal way of thinking does not tend to change.
Long-term Pattern of Behavior
Personality disorders are defined by their long-term nature. A child who avoids others will likely persist in this behavior through their teen, young adult, middle age and old age years. Another characteristic of personality disorders is that they are stable throughout the person’s lifetime. Personality disorders are stable because personalities are stable. Medications are not known to help personality disorders, and only borderline personality disorder has been found to respond to counseling or therapy. Only two types of therapy are known to lessen the symptoms and dysfunction associated with borderline personality disorder. There is nothing a person can do on their own to make their personality disorder better or worse.
Departure from What Is Expected
Personality disorders are deviations from the expectations of others. Another way to say this is that the person’s way of thinking is different from what other people think it should be. The different way of thinking is still within the normal range; it is on the extreme, which is why people think it is unusual or find it to be unexpected. When a person’s thoughts or behaviors deviate from what other people believe they should think or do, the individual can feel distressed. Expectations are different across different cultures, so a person defined as having a personality disorder in one culture may fall within the expectations of thoughts or behaviors in a different culture.
10 Main Types of Personality Disorders
Mental health experts have identified 10 distinct personality disorders, explains the American Psychiatric Association. These are defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is possible that the diagnostic criteria or number of identified personality disorders could change in the future. The 10 personality disorders include antisocial personality, avoidant personality, borderline personality, dependent personality, and histrionic personality. Narcissistic personality, obsessive-compulsive personality, paranoid personality, schizoid personality, and schizotypal personality round out the 10 currently identified disorders. It is important to note that obsessive-compulsive personality is not the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is a mental illness.
Understanding what a personality disorder is helps a healthcare provider, social worker, therapist or counselor provide optimal care to patients. This knowledge can also be helpful to other professionals, including educators, pharmacists, and others. Understanding what is a personality disorder is a good step forward in choosing a career path or area of focus within counseling or clinical therapy services.