The work done by psychologists will impact the lives of others in significant ways, and as such, requires individuals with a particular set of qualities. Here are six traits that psychology students should focus on.
Psychologists are needed now more than ever, in a world that seems to have turned upside down. Within a fast-paced modern lifestyle and a rapidly developing world psychologists will continue to play a vital role in society for many years to come.
Not only is psychology a career path with a future, it’s a career path that many believe will provide them with a sense of purpose. No mental health professional can claim that what they’re doing is unimportant as their work impacts the lives of others in significant ways.
So, what exactly is required of those who choose to pursue a career in psychology? As you can imagine, work of this kind requires individuals who, along with strong academic merits, have spent time on their own development, nurturing a deep sense of self-awareness.
Here are six important traits that psychology students need to have:
Experienced psychologists know that it can take a very long time to make a breakthrough. The client is the one who really drives the process, with the psychologist acting as a guide, helping the client to navigate whatever challenging issues they may be dealing with in their lives.
As such, psychology students need to understand the importance of patience and perseverance. Old habits are hard to break, and in many cases, the client’s issues will be the result of damaging thoughts and behavioral patterns that have been in place for many years.
Empathy is the ability to recognise and respond to what another person is feeling. It differs from sympathy, in that it doesn’t require you to “step into” their world and actually feel what they are feeling, nor does it require you to share their values and beliefs.
As a psychologist, you will need to be able to recognise the emotions being expressed by your client, which may be powerful emotions. The client will need to believe that your response is genuine.
But you will also need to be able to control your own emotions, and ensure you don’t get caught up in the client’s story. This is especially important if you are involved in the treatment of individuals speak about problems that sound a lot like your own.
Although you might feel like you know what your clients are talking about, therapy is about discovering the client’s experiences. Experienced psychologists make note of strong feelings they have during therapy and bring them to professional supervision, which provides a space to work through these emotions without hindering their clients’ progress.
According to Dr. Mary Dowd, Dean of Students at Minnesota State University in the United States: “Psychologists exude empathy and genuine concern. They notice nuances in voice tone and body language. Skills such as active listening and reflection encourage clients to share repressed thoughts, feelings and beliefs.”
Psychologists know their work can have significant impact on people, and they keep this in mind when dealing with clients. According to Dr. Mary Dowd: “Psychologists adhere to boundaries and never cross the line of the professional, therapeutic relationship.”
They also know that there is a code of ethics they are expected to follow, and their ability to follow this code reflects not just on the individual psychologist, but on the profession as a whole. The confidentiality agreement that exists between psychologists and their clients is sacred, and cannot be broken except under extreme circumstances.
Other important ethics include continuously developing their expertise through engagement with current knowledge, participating in supervision and developing firm boundaries to protect their clients from harm.
Dr. Mary Dowd warns that “clients intuit whether a psychologist is trustworthy”. Clients who do not trust their psychologists will not confide in them, making it impossible for treatment to progress.
Sessions can go on for a long time before real trust is built, and psychologists should not assume that the client is ready to reveal their deepest secrets simply because they arrived at a session. Many potential clients arrive at the psychologist’s office with the intention of treating surface-level issues; it can be awhile before they are ready to go deeper.
Naturally, a psychologist needs to be able to communicate effectively, considering the complexity of the subject matter. Though the patient is the one who will be doing most of the talking, the patient is not expected to be clear and concise. After all, a lack of clarity might be the reason they are seeking the services of a psychologist or counsellor in the first place.
Mental health professionals, on the other hand, need to be precise and thoughtful with an exceptionally well developed emotional vocabulary. Communication skills also come into play when dealing with other mental health and medical professionals
Psychologists need to be tolerant and curious of all kinds of people and situations. Judging clients and their situations is harmful and clients who feel judged are unlikely to remain in therapy for very long.
Furthermore, psychology is an ever-evolving field, so psychologists need to be open to new methods and theories. They need to avoid the trap many medical professionals fall into, which is to continuously fall back on the tried and tested, rather than accept and incorporate new information.
If you recognise these qualities in yourself, you may be well suited to a career in psychology. You may even have the potential to develop these qualities and become the kind of person who others turn to for guidance. Either way, if you’re interested in studying psychology, SACAP has a range of psychology courses on offer, including part-time and full-time options. For more information, enquire now.