Do You Have What it Takes to Be a Psychologist?

Here are 10 important traits you'll need to succeed. See how many fit you.

therapist in session with a patient

By Randy Woods

Few professions are as far-ranging and as widely applicable as psychology. The discipline requires expertise in such varied topics as behavioral research, medical science, clinical analysis, legal issues and sociology. Jobs in this field include school counselor, marriage and family therapist, child psychologist, and industrial and organizational 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.

The 10 Essential Therapist Personality Traits

1. Are you a good listener?

Above all other traits, a psychologist must be able to pay attention not only to what the patient says, but also the patient's subtle body language. Personal information revealed through therapy often comes slowly and with effort, so great care must be taken to understand all forms of communication to help determine a proper course of treatment.

2. Can you keep a secret?

Another cardinal rule of therapy is that nothing said between psychologist and patient is ever divulged, unless mandated by law, as stated in the American Psychological Association's Code of Ethics. Therapists should never share gossip learned during a session or bring their work home with them.

3. Do you genuinely care about others?

This may seem like a silly question, but it's important to ask. Empathy is the backbone of the psychology industry and cannot be faked. It's important that psychologists understand a patient's emotional pain and to show compassion. Those who get easily frustrated with the problems of others and want them to "just get over it" will not last long.

4. Are you naturally inquisitive?

While listening to patients, psychologists must also guide the therapy process with their own questions. This is a good profession for those who are astute observers, like to ask follow-up questions, and are able to analyze vague statements by patients to hunt for hidden meanings.

5. Do you know yourself well?

No analysis is conducted in a vacuum, so psychologists must take into account their own natural biases, based on their education, background, social status and religious beliefs. They must know how to step back from their own lives to ensure that they can make objective observations.

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

Therapy patients will come from diverse racial, political, socioeconomic, moral and cultural backgrounds. A good psychologist will have the interpersonal skills to hold conversations with every personality type and inspire trust in patients.

7. 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, psychologists must make sure that their own "mental baggage" has been addressed first. Hotheads need not apply.

8. Are you a tolerant person?

During therapy, psychologists must uncover the deepest, darkest thoughts and fears of clients to help them deal with their problems. By doing so, psychologists must refrain from passing judgment on anything being said, even if it runs counter to his or her personal and moral beliefs. In addition, therapists must be patient with incremental progress and with occasional push-back and periods of regression from clients.

9. Are you good at solving puzzles and riddles?

Good therapists are often those who can use logic to piece together solutions, often 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?

Psychology requires analytical skills, but it's also an evolving art and science. The most effective therapists must be open-minded enough to challenge previously held assumptions about human behavior and consider new theories as society changes. The human mind is highly complex and ever-changing, and psychologists must be equally adaptable to new findings in the field.