Tattoo: For a Psychologist in Training?

Reader’s Question

Hello there. My name is Jade H. I am studying to become a criminal psychologist. This question is rather random…but I am greatly considering getting a tattoo on my wrist in the next week, and was wondering if this would affect my future in terms of my career/jobs? I have done a bit of research, and most websites/forums suggest that wearing a watch or a plaster would be fine, but I thought I’d better check beforehand as there is nothing else I want to do than become a criminal psychologist. I would be very grateful if you could reply as soon as possible!

Many thanks.

Psychologist’s Reply

There is a general question here about how tattoos may be viewed by employers. From what I can tell, there is a tolerance for covered tattoos in most companies. One way to think about the workplace tolerance for tattoos is — the lower the pay on the job, the greater the tolerance for tattoos. The more your tattoos are visible or unable to be covered to the public — the less likely you will be “gainfully” employed. When you remember the standard curve in statistics — those in the upper 3% in number of tattoos and/or piercings are typically in the bottom 3% in terms of employment and income.

The next issue in the question relates to professional appearance. Psychologists generally are expected to maintain a professional appearance in pace with physicians, dentists, etc. This is especially true if you are providing services to the general public. As in general employment, there are fewer appearance requirements, formal and/or informal, for nonpublic psychology positions. Howevever, when you go to an American Psychological Association convention, you’ll see few individuals sporting tattoos. Psychologists that obtained their tattoo during a night of partying in college or in the military make sure they’re covered up.

In reality, wearing a tattoo is like wearing a Rorschach on your wrist. It allows those viewing it to interpret it through their own background and prejudice. Folks will make judgments about you based on your tattoo, often overriding your professional credentials. That tattoo becomes a statement about your credibility and personal judgment. In corrections and law enforcement, tattoos are identifiers for criminal and inmate populations. For this reason, my personal recommendation is to avoid body art. As a criminal psychologist, you want to be a professional — not “fit in” with the population you serve.

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