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10 Essential Skills Needed to Be a Psychologist
Calling yourself a people person doesn’t quite do justice to the way you feel. Sure, you enjoy surrounding yourself with others and engaging in social interactions. But you’re just as fascinated by humans from an analytical standpoint. Why do people feel, think and behave the way they do?
Your curiosity stems both from your thirst for knowledge and your desire to serve others. Perhaps gaining a better understanding of what someone is going through can enable you to help them move past whatever obstacles might be holding them back. These natural tendencies could indicate you might be a great psychologist one day.
But you probably want to know what else it takes to pursue this profession. The skills needed to be a psychologist include both technical and more general competencies. It’s worth exploring both types. You’ll soon see why it takes a well-rounded skillset to be an effective psychologist.
Soft skills needed to be a psychologist
Don’t be tempted to think that the term “soft skills” implies these competencies aren’t essential. A report from the American Psychological Association (APA) shows these five soft skills are actually the most desirable qualifications employers look for when evaluating job candidates. And you may be surprised to realize you’re already proficient in some of these critical competencies.
1. Leadership skills
The ability to lead is more important for psychologists than you might realize. Whether they’re treating patients, working with clinic staff or running a research department, psychologists need to guide multiple individuals by fostering a shared vision. Leadership skills become even more important for psychologists who manage their own practice or assume high-ranking positions at universities or other organizations.
2. Cultural awareness
Being able to appreciate other cultures and interact with people from a wide array of backgrounds is important for everyone. But it’s perhaps even more important for psychologists. For example, a growing body of evidence shows that school-based interventions designed with certain cultures in mind contribute to positive student outcomes. Understanding a patient’s background and beliefs can help inform treatment that can lead to meaningful improvements.
3. Ability to work well with a team
Psychologists don’t work in isolation. In this career, you collaborate with patients, other psychologists, researchers and potentially many other types of professionals. Our own analysis of nearly 29,000 psychology job postings in the last year reveals that teamwork and collaboration are the most desired baseline skills employers seek in job cadidates.*
4. Communication capabilities
Psychologists spend a significant amount of time listening to patients and guiding meaningful dialogue that can help those individuals work through numerous issues. These professionals need to be well-versed in written communication as well. Our psychology job analysis also shows that the ability to write well, on top of good communication in general, is among the most sought-after soft skills employers are seeking.*
5. Analytical skills
An analytical mind certainly comes into play when a psychologist is making a diagnosis, but this is a broader competency. Psychologists are constantly tasked with examining information — new research, patient behavior, raw data — to draw meaningful conclusions. According to the APA, this skill is especially important for anyone seeking a faculty research position.
Technical skills needed to be a psychologist
It’s quite possible that you already identify with many of the competencies listed above. This suggests you’re naturally inclined to thrive in a psychology career. But those natural characteristics alone must be paired with some essential technical skills.
With the appropriate education and training, you can expect to develop these capabilities.
6. Knowledge of psychological theory
Psychology is a complex field. Understanding human behaviors and thoughts involves drawing from multiple scientific disciplines. So it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that many psychological theories have emerged over time. The more familiar you are with these varying ideas, the better you’ll be able to understand current theory and how to apply it to practice.
7. Understanding of human development
Developmental psychology is an entire field in itself, but every practicing psychologist needs to have a baseline knowledge of the various developmental stages people go through. In addition to the physical changes that occur over time, humans also experience social, intellectual, perceptual and emotional growth. Having a firm background in human development helps psychologists understand the proper context when working with different patients. Everything from the client’s age to their mental health status can inform a psychologist’s approach to communication and treatment.
8. Diagnostic capabilities
When it comes to making a diagnosis, psychologists rely on a wealth of information. They’ll consider what they know about psychological theory and human development as well as what they’ve learned about a particular patient through observation, interviews and even various tests they administer to patients. Like most other mental health professionals, psychologists look to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to inform their diagnoses.
It’s worth noting that psychologists are not the same as psychiatrists. While only the latter are typically able to prescribe medications, both of these mental health professionals are qualified to make diagnoses. They just typically take a slightly different approach based on their training.
9. Treatment planning and implementation
Regardless of their specialization, psychologists aim to help improve patients’ quality of life in some way. They work toward positive outcomes by crafting individualized treatment plans that include patient history, the diagnosis, overarching goals, measurable actions for patients to take and a timeline to track progress.
Psychologists and other mental health professionals often rely on psychotherapy, which research indicates is one of the most beneficial ways to treat depression and other mental health disorders. Learning how to administer psychotherapy and craft an overarching treatment plan only comes through training and experience. This is why psychologists are required to complete supervised training to hone this skillset.
10. Research skills
At their core, psychologists are scientists. Psychology Ph.D. programs, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes, include courses in statistics and experimental procedures to ensure graduates understand the research process. All psychologists need to stay up to date on new studies and analyses, and many of them conduct their own research. Developing a solid science foundation is essential for designing sound research and interpreting the results.
Start building your psychology skillset
Psychology is a fascinating field for the right person. It allows you to help people improve their lives while engaging your interest in the human mind. You can take comfort in knowing you probably already possess at least a few of the skills needed to be a psychologist. But there’s no denying that formal education is needed to master all of the necessary requirements.
If you think psychology is your calling, it’s time to start researching your educational options. The psychology program at the University of St. Thomas was designed equip students with the necessary hard and soft skills needed to be a psychologist, with an emphasis on practical experience and a commitment to service.
To find out how you can work toward a fulfilling career, head to our Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program page.
*Source: Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 28,613 psychology job postings, October 1, 2018 – September 30, 2019)
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