7 Critical Skills for a Career in Clinical Psychology

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 22, 2022 | Published March 29, 2021

Updated August 22, 2022

Published March 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Clinical psychologists help people cope with mental illnesses and overcome behavioral disorders. They use their knowledge, training and skills to improve people's lives and better understand the human condition. If you're a clinical psychologist or you want to become one, you may be wondering what type of skills you need to succeed in this career.

In this article, we define clinical psychology skills, describe seven crucial skills for a career in clinical psychology and offer tips for improving these skills in the workplace.

What are clinical psychology skills?

Clinical psychology skills are a set of professional behaviors, abilities and traits that help people succeed in their careers as clinical psychologists. Licensed mental health professionals use these skills to diagnose and treat people with behavioral and emotional conditions as well as people who seek therapeutic counseling. Some of these skills are learned in school, training and professional practice, and some may be innate abilities.

Related: 10 Career Paths in Clinical Psychology

7 critical skills for clinical psychologists

Here are seven critical skills for people working as clinical psychologists:

1. Empathy and sympathy

Empathy and sympathy refer to a person's ability to interpret how someone is feeling and imagine how it would be to have a similar experience. Having empathy and sympathy is this social skill that helps people build strong interpersonal connections, and it helps people with different backgrounds or life experiences understand one another and learn from one another.

As a clinical psychologist, your patients are likely to come to you for guidance regarding their personal history, relationships and challenges. It's important to have empathy and sympathy to build the trust and connection necessary for offering affective behavioral guidance and emotional and psychological care.

Related: What Is Emotional Intelligence? Definition, Key Elements and Examples

2. Critical thinking

A person's critical thinking skills represent their ability to use logic, reason and creativity to resolve problems or find solutions to challenges. Clinical psychologists need to possess in-depth knowledge of emotional and behavioral disorders and psychological theories. They need to be able to apply that knowledge alongside their critical thinking and problem-solving skills to help identify, diagnose and treat behavioral, emotional or psychiatric conditions.

3. Social responsibility

Clinical psychologists study ethics as a part of their core courses in college, and they abide by a code of ethics in their practice and treatment of patients. Due to the nature of their jobs, psychologists are privy to sensitive information and need to maintain the confidentiality of their patients as well as the safety of their patients and other people.

It's imperative that psychologists obtain can send from their patients when carrying out research, conducting studies or publishing findings. They must also respect patient confidentiality and privacy and maintain healthy and ethical patient-doctor relationships.

Related: What Is Social Responsibility? Types and Examples


4. Organization

Workplace organization and attention to detail represent a person's ability to organize and categorize information easily and their ability to be thorough and accurate when completing tasks.

As a psychologist, you'll need to take diligent notes, complete forms and maintain physical and electronic files. Psychologists also need to manage schedules, appointments and treatment plans. Their organization is crucial to their ability to treat patients effectively and maintain proper confidentiality. They also need to have a high degree of attention to detail when writing reports, creating treatment plans and filling out forms or health insurance documentation.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About How To Become a Therapist

5. Keen observation

Psychologists use their observation skills to collect data for research. They need to be able to make connections and correlations between differences in behaviors, treatments and feelings in order to accurately comment on study results. They also need keen observation skills to monitor and address patient progress. The ability to be attentive while making clinical observations also helps them be more sympathetic and empathetic and aides in the diagnosis process.

6. Active listening

Active listening is a social and professional technique that improves conversations and interpersonal relationships. It involves observing nonverbal cues, careful listening, paraphrasing, sympathy and empathy. In order to properly understand their client's lives, circumstances and challenges, a psychologist needs to practice active listening during their sessions. Here are six important things to do while someone else is speaking to ensure that you're engaging in active listening:

  • Pay attention to the words the speaker uses.

  • Watch the speaker's body language.

  • Refrain from making personal judgments.

  • Interpret how a person may be feeling.

  • Reflect on what has been said, and clarify by asking questions.

  • Affirm the speaker by making consoling statements or summary statements.

Related: Qualities of a Good Listener and How To Be One

7. Written and verbal communication

Psychologists use written communication when writing reports, creating treatment plans and documenting patient progress. It's important that they are able to convey their thoughts, feelings and assessments properly so the correct information is received by insurance providers and other medical professionals.

Psychologists regularly offer feedback and advice to their patients. They need excellent verbal communication skills so that people in their care can easily interpret their instructions or guidance.

Related: 20 Skills Needed To Be a Psychologist

Tips for improving your clinical psychology skills

Here are five workplace tips for improving your skills as a clinical psychologist:

Engage in self-reflection

To build your skills as a clinical psychologist, try reflecting on your medical practice and personal life. Make a list of the most important skills or behaviors needed for excellent counseling and care management. Using a scale of one to 10, rate your current behaviors and ability in each category. An honest self-review can help you identify one or two areas where you may need improvement.

If you want to build your empathy, try to complete a similar process regarding your personal life. Choose one area in your personal life that you might want to improve upon. Think about how it would feel to speak about this with someone and imagine how you would like to receive feedback or advice regarding this issue or behavior. This process can help you imagine how a patient may feel while divulging personal information, and it can help you improve your communication and professional demeanor.

Related: 16 Self-Reflection Questions To Ask Yourself for Introspection

Attend skill-building workshops

Many private organizations, schools or employers offer skill-building activities and workshops and other professional development opportunities. As a clinical psychologist, you can search for workshops or seminars on a specific skill, or you can look for events that focus on multiple areas of professional development. Many times these workshops can serve as a place to meet like-minded professionals, develop your professional network and learn about new research or therapeutic methods.


Practice clinical assessment

Psychologists need to be experts at clinical assessment. They must be able to use their observation skills and knowledge of psychological theories to assess mental and behavioral conditions and provide proper treatment plans. Study medical journals and use online training modules to practice your diagnosis skills.

Related: Differences in Clinical vs. Counseling Psychology

Join a professional community

A professional community is a group of people with similar interests, skills or careers who are dedicated to learning and development. Each state has official psychology associations and there are many other private organizations that run professional communities, associations or groups. Typically, people in these kinds of communities share information, innovative ideas and best practices within the industry. Joining an in-person or online community can broaden your professional network and help you develop your skills and insights as a counselor and clinical psychologist.

Related: How to Improve Your Resume with Professional Affiliations

Subscribe to a medical journal or magazine

Medical journals and medical magazines provide psychologists with access to innovative ideas, recent studies and discussions regarding patient care. They may also offer information about events, workshops and professional communities that may interest you. Subscribing to a professional psychology magazine or reading medical journals can help you stay up-to-date on best practices and new or advanced techniques.

Explore more articles