What Does It Take to Be a Psychologist?

Understanding the qualities and skills needed to be a psychologist is fundamental to understanding the profession. Some of these will come naturally, others take honing. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and finding a balance will be a focus for any aspiring psychologist.

That is why it is essential to consider the distinctions between skills and qualities as you consider your interests in the field of psychology. A student can reasonably train to be a better researcher or communicate more effectively, for example. Training to be more empathetic? That might take some work and dedication to master.

Skills Needed to Be a Psychologist

Psychology job skills are as broad as they are deep. The role takes clear communication, yes, but also numeracy — particularly when working in clinical settings, conducting research, or just trying to comprehend the statistical significance of a study. Here are just a few of the core skills needed to be a successful therapist.

  • Problem-solving: Practicing therapists must be able to diagnose symptoms. More importantly, they need to give these symptoms language. Clients need to understand what they are experiencing and be able to talk about them. At the same time, therapists should be adaptable and not married to one explanation. Cases evolve over time, and it is better to follow new paths to discovery about a client’s experiences and sense of self than stay married to a theory. Treatment plans can also change over time. Many of these same problem-solving approaches may occur in research, where it is just as important to boast resilience. 
  • Research: An analytical mind is one that thrives in research psychology. It is crucial to be familiar with contemporary research methods, as well as to learn how to handle the unexpected, and know how to set up any experiments ethically. In 1920, John Watson’s The Little Albert Experiment conditioned a child to fear rats and other animals, but never desensitized him to the psychological effects and phobias associated. This experimental setup would not be considered ethical today and a good psychologist — whether instinctually or through education — will have a firm grasp of why. Therapists should have a working knowledge of the American Psychological Association’s Evidence Based Practice Guidelines in order to remain compliant and provide the best care possible.
  • Communication: Psychologists are, first and foremost, active listeners. And this, in its own way, is a form of communication that encourages patients to share, to feel heard, and process their own feelings. Psychologists also communicate clear professional boundaries, confidence in their approach, consistent treatment plans, are transparent, speak in language a client can understand, convey progress made, and are tactful when navigating a conversation. They use a scalpel and not a knife to dig into the why when it comes to psychology.
  • Data literacy: This is especially notable among what skills are needed to be a clinical psychologist who conducts research. Depending on your desired field, psychologists need a handle on statistics and the ability to interpret and summarize large swaths of data. They should also be able to find and evaluate other research effectively and determine what is needed for practice or research. In some cases, this involves basic statistical procedures and equations. Other times it involves in depth observation methods. Read on to learn more about specific qualities a psychologist should have.

Qualities a Psychologist Should Have 

Psychologists personal values and goals will differ, but the qualities that comprise them are often the same. What makes a good therapist is a combination of the above skills with the character traits and instincts that follow. 

  • Observation: Students of psychology are people who watch, who pay attention, and are curious. They pick up on the nuances of behavior — body language, choice of words, tone, etc. — and cannot help but wonder why. A stand-out psychologist will devote time and attention not just to listening but watching and picking up on cues and patterns. Among the many qualities for a psychologist is the ability to note these as they happen and meaningfully tie them together. This is essential whether specializing in clinical psychology or entry-level counseling.
  • Trustworthiness: While trust might seem implicit by the very act of someone showing up for help, trust with a patient or client should never be taken for granted. Trustworthiness is defined by a psychologist’s ethical core — their ability to accept and conceal confessions that are sensitive, while also knowing to protect someone’s health and safety. This doubly extends to research, where it is critical to have an outcome that is unbiased and does no harm to those involved. It is imperative for psychologists to practice confidentiality with their patients. There are only a few instances that warrant a breach of a patient’s trust.
  • Empathy: This might be better described simply as “warmth.” Certainly it means to be able to place yourself in the shoes of others, but it is necessary to communicate acceptance to a client. Clients should feel listened to and not judged, especially as it pertains to cultural backgrounds, religious practices, and gender or sexual identities. Moreover, psychologists should focus on clients’ own narratives and limit comparisons with themselves to avoid transference. If a psychologist fails to demonstrate empathy, trustworthiness will follow suit in being lost. This is absolutely among the most valued qualities of a good therapist. 

The combination of all these qualities are the backbone of a solid working relationship with a client. Recognize these and strengthen them, and you will develop all the skills you need to be a successful therapist. 

Bachelor of Psychology at National University

National University maintains an alumni network of 175,000 people around the globe. Scholars in the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program at National University join this group and find fulfilling careers in counseling, criminal justice, journalism, and more. The program offers comprehensive instruction that takes the qualities above and leverages them into the varied skill set needed in standard professional settings and in research. Students learn to evaluate and apply major theories and historical trends while paving their own path in the field. 

Among other skills, the program teaches current professional ethics and laws, an in-depth look at the culturally diverse populations of California, therapeutic practices, and a well-rounded understanding of norms and principles. To begin the application process, contact our admissions office today.









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