If you are a "people person," chances are someone in your life has suggested you become a psychologist. But before you hang up a shingle and start to see patients, take a step back and consider the myriad of skills and talents needed to be a good psychologist. Although psychologists work in many different settings including research facilities, industrial settings, schools and clinical environments, all good psychologists apply the scientific method to the study of human behavior, so being a "people person" alone won't cut it.
Good psychologists not only go to school for a long time, but they never put down the books, even when they begin their working lives. According to the 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics' guidelines, “Most clinical, counseling, and research psychologists need a doctoral degree.” Whether you choose to become a college professor or a clinician, psychologists are required by the American Psychological Association's Code of Conduct to apply the latest research principles in all of their professional dealings.
It doesn't matter if you have every word Sigmund Freud wrote memorized, no one will hire you if they dislike you. Regardless of your working environment, good psychologists challenge people's thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. If you are working in a clinical setting, you will be seeing people when they are emotionally vulnerable. To get your point across, it isn't sufficient to quote research findings. You have to be sensitive and respectful of people's readiness to hear what you have to say.
As a good psychologist, you are responsible for protecting and respecting civil and human rights in all aspects of your professional life. You aren't just shooting from the hip; however, the APA provides a lengthy code of ethics all psychologists must follow. Areas covered in the guidelines include human relations, privacy and confidentiality, advertising, education, research and clinical practice. If conflicts arise, psychologists must take reasonable steps to resolve the conflict in alignment with the APA’s rules.
Being a good psychologist requires careful balance between conflicting demands. Ryan Howes, Ph.D., writing in 2011 for "Psychology Today," indicated that good psychologists balance the need to be objective with the need to be sensitive. They must be respectful of their clients' beliefs, while challenging their ways of thinking. There will be times when your own values and beliefs are challenged, but you can't shut down. You have to take care of yourself and at the same time you must help others.
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.