Psychology can be a stressful and mentally demanding job and it carries tremendous responsibility. Your clients will depend on you to remain calm and make valid decisions regardless of the circumstances. Before beginning a career in this field, carefully evaluate your personality traits and preferences against those required by the job to ensure a good fit.
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Whether you're a personal counselor or an organizational psychologist, you'll need to be able to develop a clear understanding of people and situations -- even when the views of those involved are skewed or their statements false. In the course of your education, you'll learn how to ask probing questions, interpret nonverbal signals and recognize common issues such as denial or avoidance, but you will need a keen sense of perception to put your knowledge to use in the field.
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The ability to maintain emotional distance is a critical trait for both physical and mental healthcare professionals. It protects you by helping prevent mental overload, but it also helps the client by allowing you to remain objective and rational when she is too overwhelmed by emotion to do so herself. This turns you into a lifeline for a struggling patient and can help her see and respond to a situation based on what it truly is rather than how she feels about it.
You won't be an effective psychologist -- particularly in a personal therapy setting -- if you weep alongside your clients. But you won't inspire trust or confidence unless people feel that you genuinely care about and understand their feelings, so you will need to balance objectivity with a healthy dose of compassion. Issues that may seem trivial for most people become overwhelming stresses or fears for some and different individuals have different time frames and ways of coping and healing.
Psychologists spend most of each day dealing with the motivations and emotions of people. Counselors deal with angry, sad, depressed or frightened individuals and with those coping with grief or trauma. You may have to listen to horrific stories and your clients can become highly dependent upon you. All of these things contribute to a very high job stress level, so you will need to develop strategies for managing tension. Many counselors have therapists of their own; others regularly practice meditation or other relaxation techniques.
Maggie Worth has more than 18 years of marketing and business management experience. She has conducted training classes in resume, fiction and web writing and has written textbooks, resumes, professional and technical documents, ad copy, video scripts and articles for lifestyle magazines. She is director of marketing communications strategy and special projects for a university.