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Psychologists regularly deal with difficult and challenging patients, so it can be a stressful and demanding career choice. They help patients with severe psychological disorders, people dealing with serious life situations, such as illness, divorce or bereavement, and they also help those suffering from everyday stress and other common issues. Successful and effective psychologists usually have certain personal qualities that make dealing with the difficulties inherent to the profession comfortable and doable.
Compassion and empathy are two of the most important personal qualities of any effective mental health clinician. The ability to convey compassion and empathy is often referred to as "starting where your client is at." A genuine desire to help others and to the ability to understand and relate to their pain and struggles is necessary in order to help patients feel that you're truly invested in helping them solve their problems. You should be able to put yourself in someone else's shoes while you maintain professional boundaries.
Inquisitiveness in psychology might be defined as a desire to understand the inner workings of the human mind and to discover why people act and think the way they do. Being inquisitive means that you are curious and keen to understand why your patients make certain choices and what is causing the dysfunction in their lives. Curiosity and interest are especially important for psychologists who encounter patients who have a different value system than their own, according to Shannon Vincent Wilde in her dissertation, "Value Conflicts in Psychotherapy." You should have a willingness to learn more about your patients' values and beliefs instead of trying to impose your own beliefs on others.
Psychologists need to be self-aware and have a good understanding of their own mind before they can truly help others. If you don't have the ability to self-reflect and understand your own motivations, you might be tempted to jump to conclusions or subconsciously superimpose your own issues on your patients. A deeper understanding of who you are is crucial if you want to become a better psychologist, according to Douglas C. Maynard in an article for the Summer 2006 issue of "Eye on Psi Chi," the newsletter of Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology.
Excellent communication skills are critical for psychologists, since they spend much of their time talking with and listening to patients, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You should be able to tease out the underlying messages in what your clients say, be perceptive to non-verbal forms of communication, such as eye contact or physical postures, be able to listen for long periods of time without becoming bored or impatient, and be able to reflect back to your clients the significant thoughts and feelings that you observe.
Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.