8 Important Skills Needed to be a Psychologist

Created by careersinpsychology

Students of psychology go through years of college training and on-the-job practical experience before they develop the skills needed to be a psychologist so they can get a chance to practice independently. You know they are spending all those classroom and clinical hours learning how to do the job… but what exactly are the psychologist job skills they are developing through all that training?

That’s what this list is all about. The skills needed to be a psychologist are distinctive and extremely important, but not everyone knows what they are. If you are thinking about going into a career in psychology, though, it’s absolutely vital you understand what the top psychologist job skills are.

Why is it important for you to think about this sort of thing now? Because your psychology degree path will shape the kind of skills you develop and in what environments you get to practice them. The qualities of a psychologist aren’t something you are born with—you’ll have to be trained by the right people and in the right settings.

What Are The Top Skills Needed to Be a Psychologist?

Psychologist careers can go in many different directions, so you will find that some skills are more important to you in some niches than others.

But the profession as a whole does require some very important psychology skills you will first need to master. And your mastery of those skills will translate to how qualified you will eventually be for any one of those niche areas. These all go to the heart of what it means to be a psychologist, whether you work in some high-level policy position or out in the field face-to-face with clients.

Psychologist qualifications are determined not just by your employer, but also by your clients. Psychology can be an intensely personal profession. Finding the right fit between clinical psychologist and patient is absolutely critical for offering the kind of help that people need.

Those job skills don’t just come out of nowhere. Your training is designed to give you exactly what you need as a professional psychologist, but for the same reason that not every psychologist is exactly the same, not every degree program in psychology is exactly the same. Understanding the psychologist job skills your career will require helps you pick the right college program from the start.


What are psychology skills?

Psychology skills are the abilities and expertise that allow you to successfully perform your work in researching, diagnosing, and assisting individuals and organizations in the field of mental health.

What are the qualities of a good psychologist?

Good psychologists can be found in any different kind of psychology practice, from theoretical research to high-level advisory positions, to clinical counseling. That means the qualities that describe a good psychologist can vary quite a bit depending on the job. A research psychologist may benefit by being more studious, meticulous, and have excellent written communication skills. The psychologist qualities that make for a good clinician would include being more of a people person, with excellent verbal communication skills, and a caring and interested nature.

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You’ll have to decide what kind of psychologist you want to be before you can settle on the qualities that will most benefit your career.

1. Empathy

The ability to understand and share the feelings of others may be the most important skill that any psychologist practicing in any part of the profession needs to have. Psychology is entirely about the thought processes and feeling that humans experience. Without the ability to put yourself into their shoes, you’re going to have a rough time connecting or analyzing any of the core pieces of that puzzle.

That’s true whether you are a research psychologist or a skilled clinician. Even if you never see a patient, you have to be able to fully imagine and explore the feelings and thoughts of other individuals. No psychological analysis will be complete without!

Do you need people skills to be a psychologist?

To be honest, it depends on what kind of psychologist you are planning to become. Theoretical and research work are the psychologist qualifications that can prepare you for jobs where there’s actually little routine patient contact. In those cases, you still need empathy in order to understand what is happening with the population you are studying, but you don’t necessarily need to have terrific people-handling skills for hands-on interactions.

2. Intelligence

Psychologists are no dummies. When you have to work your way through anywhere from two to seven years of graduate school, in a field where the National Center for Education Statistics estimates something less than 7,000 individuals earn doctoral degrees each year, you better be among the best and the brightest in the country.

Psychology is a hard science in both senses of the word. It is difficult, because it is complex and deep. But it is also hard in the sense of being tied back to rock-solid science, with repeated experimentation and verifiable results. Those are both factors that demand psychologists have a high level of intelligence in order to succeed.

3. Patience

Results in psychology don’t come overnight. Whether you are driving a longitudinal study that takes decades to accumulate interesting results, or simply working with an individual patient who has complicated mental issues to sort out, diagnose, and treat, you don’t get into psychology for quick fixes. You have to be a person who can take the time to understand the complexities, look at all the angles, and make your moves at the right moments to have the best effect… not a second before!

4. Insight

Patients come to psychologists looking for explanations. Why do I wake up crying every morning? Why does my mother treat me poorly? What can I do about the recurrent anxiety I feel every day when I go in to work?

Having a detached, outside perspective on those issues isn’t enough. Psychologists have to take all the many factors that go into people’s lives and be able to put the puzzle together to fish the why out of the what. It really is like a puzzle in some cases, and you need the kind of brain that somehow can snap the pieces together when you see them, making connections that your patients or even their closest friends and family can’t see.

5. Communication

Naturally, when you are putting those insights together, it doesn’t do you any good if you can’t communicate them back to the patient. Or, if you are research or theorist, to communicate your insights out to the wider world of psychology.

That makes excellent communication skills an absolute must for psychologists. You have to be able to ask the right questions to get the information you need to start off with. Then you need to have the tact and skill to follow up with sometimes sensitive questions. Finally, you have to be able to put together your own thoughts, either in speech or writing, to help other people understand what you have come to understand. It’s a tall order, but it’s a bare minimum for being successful as a psychologist.

6. Curiosity

Even if you aren’t a researcher by position, every psychologist has to have a basic level of curiosity about psychological phenomena and what makes people tick. If you aren’t interested in those innermost experiences, you aren’t likely to pursue the threads of thoughts as far as they need to be taken. You won’t be asking the right questions, and you may not take the time that is needed to really think through psychological experiences and get to the heart of the matter.

7. Flexibility

One of the great things about psychology is the variety. Even when you specialize in a particular niche, you’ll find out really quickly that ever single case is different. Every person is unique. That means your approach, whether studying or treating that person, will need to be adaptable.

Solutions that work for one case of depression may be the totally wrong call when treating a different person with the same issue. Your professional discretion is the only thing standing between success and disaster in those decisions. You need to understand the differences and have the flexibility to change up your approach when it is called for.

8. Diligence

Finally, you need to have the attitude and the fortitude to see things through to the end. Patience by itself isn’t enough. You also need the drive to keep your other important skills honed. When you flexibility starts to harden up, when your curiosity levels get low, when your communication takes extra effort… that’s when you have to be extra diligent to make sure you are maintaining your professional standards and offering the kind of treatment that psychologists have to deliver.

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Of course, the qualities of a good psychologist don’t have to end there. Not every graduate from elite accounting programs comes out like a cookie cutter. Perhaps your skills will include kindness or a high level of compassion that will play into your unique value as a psychologist. There is plenty of room for those skills too. You want to differentiate yourself from other professionals, after all.

But no matter what your niche or industry, you’ll still start with developing the essential skills needed to be a psychologist.