Management & Leadership

So you want to become a psychologist?

Oct 21, 2014
Become a psychologist

Do you find yourself sitting down with friends and nitpicking their brains, analysing their behaviours, and helping them sort through their not-so-conscious problems? Perhaps the brains of children, the elderly, couples, or entire corporations rev your intellectual engines. Either way, becoming a psychologist could well be your calling.

Few professions are as far ranging and as widely applicable as psychology. The discipline requires expertise in such varied topics as behavioural research, medical science, clinical analysis, legal issues and sociology. Jobs in this field include marriage and family therapist, child psychologist, and industrial and organisational psychologist, to name but a few.

‘During their graduate studies, aspiring psychologists learn about different counselling and psychotherapeutic theories and interventions, as well as problem-solving techniques and behavioural modification methods,’ says Dr Ashley Smyth, Academic Dean and Educator at the South African College of Applied Psychology, who adds that would-be psychologists are usually people who are already fascinated by these concepts and ideas before they begin their studies: ‘They have an innate interest in intra-psychic – or internal – and interpersonal dynamics, and want to understand what makes people tick and what motivates their behaviour and actions.’

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According to Dr Smyth, psychology as a subject is really the study of human behaviour – a human science – and, therefore, when we study psychology, we need to see it embedded in a context: ‘Given the needs in South Africa, there is a rapidly growing demand for graduates with a thorough grounding in psychology, high intellectual independence, applied skills and research capacity to be actively involved in a range of careers and professional activities that are able to have a profound impact in improving the overall wellbeing of individuals and society.’

SACAP has been training students in psychology for over 17 years and, with its unique blend of rigorous theory, applied skills and experiential fieldwork training, is recognised as the number one Higher Educational provider in the field of Applied Psychology in South Africa, points out Dr Smyth. ‘Furthermore, at SACAP, we believe that one’s ability to effect positive external transformation is critically dependent on one’s personal growth,’ he says. ‘This belief is reflected in our learner-centred educational philosophy, which places an emphasis on an intimate and interactive learning environment facilitated by leading practitioners and expert educators. As a result our students undergo their own empowering process, which gives them greater control of their lives, increasing their ability to activate both inner resources and resources at a broader community level that effect change and ensure transformation of society.’

Do you have what it takes to become a psychologist?

The most talented and in-demand psychologists tend to have a set of personality traits in common that enable them to work most effectively with patients and help them solve their emotional or mental problems. Anyone considering a career as a therapist or other type of psychology professional should consider these 10 basic questions before taking the plunge.

  1. Are you a good listener?

This refers to hearing not only what a patient says but also to interpreting his or her body language. Information extracted through therapy can be a slow arduous process requiring the skill of understanding all forms of communication, verbal or otherwise.

  1. Can you keep a secret?

Unless mandated to do by law, what gets shared in a therapy session stays in a therapy session. This means not bringing work home with you, so to speak.

  1. Do you genuinely care about others?

The backbone of psychotherapy is the ability to empathise with others. Good psychologists are able to compassionately identify with a patient’s emotional pain. Those who get easily frustrated with the problems of others won’t last long in the profession.

  1. Are you naturally inquisitive?

Psychology is a good profession for those who are astute observers, like to ask follow-up questions, and are able to analyse vague statements to search for obscured meanings.

  1. Do you know yourself well?

Psychologists need to be able to step back from their own natural biases, be it those based on education, background, social status or religious beliefs, in order to ensure that they make objective observations.

  1. Are you comfortable with talking to all types of people? 

Trust is the cornerstone of effective therapy and a good psychologist will have the interpersonal skills to hold conversations with every personality type, regardless of racial, political, socio-economic, moral or cultural backgrounds.

  1. Are you a generally stable individual?

No one expects psychologists to be perfect; after all, they’re only human. But before they can sit patients down on the couch, they must make sure that their own ‘mental baggage’ has been addressed.

  1. Are you a tolerant person?

As a psychologist, you will be expected to refrain from passing judgment on anything being said, even if it runs counter to your personal and moral beliefs. In addition, you’ll have to content with incremental progress and prepared to accept periods of regression from clients.

  1. Are you good at solving puzzles?

Good therapists are often those who can use logic to piece together solutions, frequently from limited information. Psychologists must be able to drill down through extraneous data to determine the root causes of patients’ distress and provide an accurate diagnosis.

10.  Are you creative and flexible?

Yes, psychology requires analytical skills, but it’s also an evolving art and science. The human mind is highly complex and ever changing, and psychologists must be equally adaptable to new findings in the field.

If you answered ‘yes’ to the above questions and decide that psychology is indeed the field for you, then it’s imperative that your chosen qualification has relevance, complies with appropriate standards of quality and excellence, and is nationally recognised and internationally comparable.

Ask the following of your intended educational facility:

SACAP complies with all of the above. Click here to register for a career in one of the most exciting fields there is.

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