Top 10 Skills a Psychologist Needs

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Dear Psychologist-

I might want to become a psychologist. What kinds of skills will I get in a graduate program and training? What will I learn there?

Thanks, Jim

Dear Jim-

So you want to become a psychologist.... you are correct that the graduate program and training will build some essential skills for you. Of course, even in the best doctoral program of psychology, it matters that you have the raw material already-- that you care about people, have an intuitive and perceptive mind, and are interested in psychological topics.

What skills do you need to become a psychologist?

1) Build Rapport. The ability to connect quickly and well with people is an important skill for a psychologist. As a clinician you will work with a wide variety of clients. A good training program will give you some guidance on building rapport with even difficult ones.

2) Diagnosis. Learning to make an accurate diagnosis will be a part of your training as a psychologist. Determining whether a client has depression, anxiety, adjustment problems, or psychosis will make a big difference in your treatment plan. Insurance companies require you to diagnose a patient in order to be reimbursed.

3) Assessment. Psychologists are uniquely trained to administer psychological tests. These tests can determine cognitive abilities such as IQ, psychological challenges such as psychosis, learning disabilities, developmental problems, and neurological issues. In a good doctoral program you will learn to choose, administer, and score tests as well as write a useful report.

4) Creating a safe environment. Clients are often anxious about entering treatment. Your job as a psychologist is to set them at ease and help them feel they can trust you. Once trust is established, treatment can proceed more effectively.

5) Treatment Planning. As a graduate student you will learn to create treatment plans based on your diagnosis and perhaps assessment of the patient. Will you suggest long or short term therapy? Individual or group? A more exploratory type of therapy or a cognitive-behavioral approach? Treatment planning should be tailored to your patient's specific needs.

6) Listening skills. All clinicians need great listening skills. Listening is the core action of therapy and counseling. You will have a chance in your program to learn more about building your ability to listen, as well as to practice.

7) Showing Empathy. Along with listening well, an effective psychologist has empathy for her clients. This means she can understand what they are feeling and communicate that.

8) Analyzing a situation. A smart psychologist can understand how different factors affect a client's life and well-being. As a psychologist you will listen to your clients' stories and help them make sense of them.

9) Managing boundaries. As a therapist you must keep clear boundaries with your clients. Training in this area is related to ethics. A good supervisor will help guide you in this process of making boundaries as will your classes on ethics in practice.

10) Communicating clearly. Finally, a psychologist's tools are her words. If you can express yourself and ideas clearly you will be better able to help your client. While it is not your role to tell clients what to do you can help gently guide them to find the most beneficial direction.

Becoming a psychologist is hard work and there are many skills to acquire. Look for an excellent training program and apply yourself well-- and you will be on your way to a successful career in this field.

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