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What Makes a Good Psychologist? Advice for Psychology Students

Careers and University, Psychology

Psychologists play a vital if somewhat low profile role within Australia’s fast growing healthcare sector. They do this by helping their patients understand and effectively deal with their mental health issues, learning difficulties and challenges adjusting to new environments on a daily basis. With the stigma surrounding mental illness having lifted in recent years, thanks to effective public education campaigns and outspoken public figures sharing their own battles with mental illness, demand for psychology services in Australia has increased significantly. For those with an interest in this complex and fascinating field, now is an ideal time to study psychology and build a demanding yet rewarding career helping improve mental health outcomes across Australia. Whilst knowledge of fundamental psychology principles and basic clinical best practice is vital, there’s plenty of soft skills also necessary to become a good psychologist. Here’s a few that psychology students should keep in mind:

  • Good Psychologist Trait #1: Strong Listening Skills

Above all, psychologists need to be good listeners as a great deal of their day to day job is spent directly with patients in a clinical setting, sitting down listening carefully to their concerns and personal experiences. Given there’s no such thing as a “typical” patient consultation (each patient is unique after all) and each session taking anywhere from 20 minutes up to a few hours, a good psychologist will not only be adept at listening closely, taking detailed notes and asking relevant questions – they will also need to be patient listeners.

  • Good Psychologist Trait #2: Strong Communication Skills

Having strong verbal and written communication skills is another important tool that allows psychology students to excel in their chosen profession once they enter the world of full-time clinical practice. Often patients will seek out the services of a psychologist simply to have someone they can talk to, or as a way of alleviating feelings of loneliness or depression. Keeping this in mind, a good psychologist will not only acknowledge the emotions and experiences of their patients during consultation, making them feel like they’ve been listened to, but will also clearly communicate effective strategies they can follow to deal with their mental health challenges in between appointments. Sharing notes and clinical information with other medical professionals is another important role psychologists regularly perform that requires timely, effective communication.

  • Good Psychologist Trait #3: Personal Integrity

Gaining the trust of your patients and building a reputation for professional integrity more broadly speaking is essential if you’d like to enjoy a long career as an effective and well respected psychologist. With long hours spent in direct patient consultations, you’ll be regularly exposed to sensitive personal information, including secrets they may not have disclosed with anyone else. For this reason, you need to develop a strong rapport with patients from the very first meeting. Building trust will help the patient open up and share the important details necessary for you to make an accurate diagnosis of their mental health condition.

  • Good Psychologist Trait #4: Empathy

This leads to the fourth trait of what makes a good psychologist – possessing a sense of personal empathy in spades. Generally speaking, most students decide to study psychology out of a strong interest in human beings and a genuine desire to help others improve their wellbeing. If these highly desirable personality traits are what led you into this profession in the first place, then you already have a solid foundation from which to grow into your role. More than just being a good listener and communicator, empathy refers to the ability to “put yourself into the shoes” of someone else – by perceiving their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Ultimately, having a strong sense of empathy allows you to tailor your sessions and therapeutic treatment plans to patients in a way you believe will best address their individual circumstances and personal goals.

  • Good Psychologist Trait #5: Self Awareness

Self-awareness is another important trait that makes for an effective psychologist. Similar to possessing cultural awareness, which entails a basic understanding of what makes people from diverse cultural backgrounds tick, being self-aware refers to understanding your own personal biases and ensuring they don’t interfere with your delivery of good patient care. Through self-awareness, you can also gauge your reaction to specific patient scenarios and adjust future responses to be more objective and persuasive when giving therapeutic advice to patients.

If you’re keen to build a rewarding career in the fascinating world of psychology, helping to improve the mental health outcomes of fellow Australians on a daily basis, visit Monash Online today to learn more about our Graduate Diploma in Psychology (GDP) program.

This post has been placed on My Health Career in partnership with Monash University.


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