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Top 5 Personal Qualities for Psychologists

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Question:
Dear Psychologist,

I am going to apply for to go to a psychology school next fall. I know what tests I need to take, and I can write the essay, but what qualities do I need to have as a person to be successful in this field?

Sincerely, Bonnie

Answer:
Dear Bonnie,

It sounds like you are on top of what you need to do to apply to psychology school for a doctoral degree. As you suggest, there are tests you need to take, applications to fill out, and prerequisites to check. It can also help to have had some experience out in the field.

Your question, however, is about the more personal qualities that a psychologist needs to be successful. Psychologists vary in personality and background, of course, so much so that it could seem difficult to find common characteristics. Some psychologist specialize in cognitive-behavioral therapy, others do a more probing type of therapy that looks at the past, and some treat whole family systems.

Nevertheless, very good psychologists often share a few things in common. Below is a list of natural qualities that can be very helpful when becoming a psychologist.

1) A curious and sharp mind: Psychologists must be curious about what makes people, groups, and systems do what they do. This trait is important both for learning more about their clients, as well as for doing therapy. Since the field of psychology is constantly evolving, and new treatments being created, a sharp and inquisitive mind will be a great asset.

2) Empathy: One of the primary things that psychologists do is to listen to their clients, whether these be individuals, groups, or a larger system. Empathy is the ability to understand what another might be feeling, to put yourself in their shoes. It is therefore, a critical component of the work psychologists do with their clients in order to help them get well or thrive.

Psychologists often help people to manage their feelings and experiences. To do this well, they need to have empathy, which is a part of emotional intelligence.

3) Perceptiveness: In addition to reading others' emotions, psychologists need to also understand what is happening in their clients' lives in general. A psychologist who is perceptive will notice patterns, dynamics, and other things that serve as clues to helping the client.

4) Humility: In my opinion, the best psychologists have a sense of humility. When clients let us into their lives and emotions, they can often put us on a pedestal. Psychologists who think they are better than their clients, or don't have their own issues to work on, can often have blind spots that get in the way of good treatment. However, while a great psychologist will still have her own issues to deal with, she will also be actively working on her own growth.

5) Self-reflection: Along with humility comes the power of the psychologist to self-reflect. The privilege of working with clients requires a continual look at one's own self. Therapy at its best uses the therapist herself as a tool.

As you enter your psychology school next year, consider these qualities and work to develop or enhance them as much as possible. While some people naturally have more of these qualities than others, some of them can be worked on, such as empathy, humility, and self-reflection.

You might want to learn more about emotional intelligence by going to the site on Emotional Intelligence Information. It is a good start to learning how to build these valuable qualities.

Good luck. If you have a sincere passion and interest in helping others, you should be able to work on these qualities in yourself, and to advance your career in psychology.

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