What Skills Do You Need to Become a Psychologist?

psychology degree student developing her skills during a session

There are different types of psychologists. Some of them work one-on-one with patients or with small groups of patients, while others focus on research and academia. Some psychologists focus on criminal behavior, while others explore childhood development and other subfields. Regardless of your specialization, there are some important skills you will need in any psychology career. You can work on polishing these skills while you earn your psychology degree.

Communication Skills

All psychologists need to be skilled communicators. Those who work with patients must explain diagnoses and treatment recommendations in a way that patients can understand. Since psychologists may work with patients from diverse socio-economic backgrounds with varying levels of education, it is important to be able to communicate in a way that is widely understood.

Even if you plan to focus your psychology career on research, you will still need strong communication skills. Research psychologists must be able to record their observations and findings. They may be called upon to present their work at conferences or symposiums. Similarly, psychologists who go into academia need to communicate with their students.

Active listening skills are an integral component of clear communication. Psychologists need to be excellent listeners who consider what the speaker is saying. They also need to consider nonverbal cues. For example, a patient who is uncomfortable about the idea of being in therapy may frequently fidget or look at their watch during sessions.


Ethical judgment, decision-making and conduct are skills that can be learned, and they are particularly important in the psychology field. Psychologists must be willing to understand and adhere to all ethical codes established by professional organizations in the field. For example, psychologists owe a duty to their patients to:

  • Obtain informed consent for therapy
  • Maintain confidentiality and explain the limits of confidentiality to their patients
  • Minimize privacy intrusions by only recording essential information
  • Disclose confidential information only when permitted by the affected patient or when required to do so by law

There are many more ethical requirements for psychologists as established by the American Psychological Association (APA). Aspiring psychologists should carefully read these ethical guidelines and understand how to put them into practice.

Problem-Solving Skills

Psychology is a career that deals with the intricacies of human thought and behavior. Because of this, the outcome of a therapeutic approach is not always predictable. Psychologists cannot say for certain whether a patient might be helped by any given treatment approach because every patient is unique. Psychologists need excellent problem-solving skills because it is often necessary to develop evidence-based, unique solutions to patient challenges.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is also referred to as an emotional quotient (EQ). It is the capacity to understand, regulate and use one’s own emotions, and to understand the emotions of other people. Individuals with strong EQ are typically better able to build strong relationships, make informed decisions and achieve personal goals. Emotional intelligence is widely recognized as having four main characteristics:

  • Self-awareness: Individuals can recognize their own emotions and understand how those emotions affect thought and behavior.
  • Self-management: Individuals can healthily manage emotions, control impulsive behaviors and adapt to change.
  • Relationship management: Individuals can maintain healthy, non-toxic relationships by resolving conflict, inspiring others and cooperating with others.
  • Social awareness: Individuals cultivate empathy by detecting emotional cues, recognizing group dynamics and understanding the emotional needs of others.

Emotional intelligence is a critical skill in every field and industry. However, for those who are working toward a psychology degree, it is especially important to actively work on acquiring a stronger EQ. Psychologists need emotional intelligence because, like their clients, they are human beings. It is all too easy to let one’s own emotions interfere with a client’s therapeutic goals. Psychologists need to be able to recognize and regulate their own emotions so that they can better help their clients. EQ enables psychologists to empathize with their patients. Individuals with high EQ can put themselves in a patient’s shoes, which can offer insights regarding treatment recommendations.

Computer Skills

Computer skills are important for every profession and psychology is no exception. Aspiring psychologists need to know how to download files, take digital notes and use basic software programs. Psychologists need to use software to keep track of patient records and treatment reports, for example. If they run their own practice, psychologists also need to be able to use accounting software or billing programs.

You can acquire foundational knowledge and key skills when you earn your psychology degree at Grand Canyon University. Choose from a range of undergraduate programs, including the Bachelor of Science in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance and Sport Psychology, or graduate programs, such as the Master of Science in Psychology with an Emphasis in Life Coaching program. Aspiring psychologists can click on Request Info above to learn more about the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.