10 Qualities of an Effective Clinical Psychologist

If you dream of helping people treat and prevent mental disorders, you should consider a career in clinical psychology. Clinical psychologists work in hospitals, private practices and other healthcare or academic settings, and they may specialize in child mental health, adult mental health, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, substance abuse, geriatrics, or health psychology.

As therapists they work directly with clients and keep detailed medical records, and as science practitioners they perform research in their field. Their primary goal is to improve their clients’ behavior adjustment, adaptation, personal effectiveness, and satisfaction, and many also aim to improve medicine’s overall understanding of mental health. To be an effective clinical psychologist, you should be:

Quality #1: A good communicator

It is estimated that 75% of a person’s day is spent communicating in some way, and that might be a low estimate for clinical psychologists. As a therapist, you must be a good listener who is capable of hearing what your clients say and identifying the underlying meaning or problem behind their words and their nonverbal cues, such as eye contact and body language. You must also be capable of communicating knowledge, compassion, and treatment options to your clients. Your tone, intonation, expression, and choice of words are important factors in how you communicate verbally. Written communication is also important; you are the record-keeper for your clients’ other clinicians and insurance needs.

Quality #2: Passionate about science

As a clinical psychologist, you will be expected to engage in and be accountable for your own research — a fact that separates clinical psychologists from other therapists — and so therefore you must be not only capable of but enthusiastic about thinking scientifically: asking questions, thinking critically, experimenting, and explaining your reasoning. Those communications skills will also come in handy when it’s time to present your findings.

Quality #3: Curious

Clinical psychologists want to know what makes people tick. Each client is different, and the answer of how to help each individual is not always readily apparent. Often the initial assessment is the first opportunity to gauge the situation, so clinical psychologists must be able to ask insightful questions and follow the trail of information to come up with the best solution for that individual.

Quality #4: Creative

Since each client present a new and different challenge, clinical psychologists need to be creatively minded. You are responsible for coming up with new solutions, techniques, and suggestions for bettering the quality of life of your clients. Since the goals are both medical and subjectively human, a creative approach allows you to be more encompassing of the wide array of possibilities.

Quality #5: Confident

When it comes time to sit down and conduct a therapy session with a client, the clinical psychologist must have confidence and a strong capacity for self-reflection. If you don’t have a handle on your own triggers and issues, you can inadvertently bring those into the therapy room and put them on the client. You must present yourself — a flawed human, certainly, but a trained professional — with poise and integrity.

Quality #6: Thick-skinned

Clinical psychologists work with a wide range of patients, from people with relationship problems to substance abusers to depressives to those with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Simply put: You can’t let it get to you. You must be able to bear the burden with grace, to adapt and “roll with the punches,” so to speak, as well as bounce back from heartache. You must handle the pressure, you must keep trying where others have failed, you must keep trying where you yourself have failed.

Quality #7: Empathetic

As a therapist, you must be able to offer a caring, understanding, and empowering environment for your patients. You must be able to respect autonomy and personal responsibility while acting as a guiding and validating force for their health and well-being. You must be able to put yourself in their shoes. You must accept who your patient is, fundamentally, and support them unconditionally; you cannot withdraw your support if they do something wrong or that you disagree with. Your empathy helps create a connection with your client, allowing you to sort through the inherent difficulties of the human condition and address your client’s unique situation and find meaningful solutions.

TherapyQuality #8: Non-Judgmental

Clinical psychologists not only support their clients unconditionally, they also don’t criticize weakness or incorrect action. Such value judgments weaken your clients’ trust and regard and render your advice and services less effective. It goes without saying, but no therapist should discriminate against a client with a different background or values — though for some people, that is easier said than done. You must be steadfast in your commitment to be non-judgmental toward your clients.

Quality #9: Able to see patterns

Clinical psychologists must be able to see patterns, both internal and external, that people engage in. These patterns are often the key to identifying when people are stuck in an unhealthy state of mind or relationship. You can help your client immensely if you are skilled at recognizing such patterns and bringing their attention to it.

Quality #10: Motivated

A clinical psychologist needs to possess extensive knowledge of the theoretical, clinical, and empirical bases of their field. The acquisition of this knowledge takes considerable dedicated education as well as fieldwork and training. After you begin practice as a clinical psychologist, you will continue to be tested by long hours, piles of paperwork, an ever-changing field, and the stressors of helping others bear their mental and emotional burden. Clinical psychology can be an immensely satisfying and meaningful career, and those who succeed are highly motivated to contribute to the advancement of individual health in the present and public health in the grand scheme.

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Kaplan University
MS: Psych - Applied Behavioral Analysis
MS: Psychology
Kaplan University - Kaplan University is one of the largest schools in the US, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Kaplan has over 170 programs that can be taken online including an MS in General Psychology or an MS in Psychology in Applied Behavioral Analysis.
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Northcentral University
MA: Psychology
Northcentral University - Northcentral University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. NCU has online programs for an MA in Health Psychology and an MA in General Psychology. These programs are well-suited for working professionals who must balance personal lives with their education.
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