The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Psychology Students


Published June 14, 2024

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Want to succeed in psychology? Then invest in your emotional intelligence. Psychology students can see the positive impact of EI long after graduation.
Psychologist listening to patient Credit: RealPeopleGroup / E+ / Getty Images

Psychologists pioneered the study of emotional intelligence (EI), and psychology students can benefit from high EI during their academic careers and professional lives. Yet, it can be hard to understand exactly what EI is and what it can affect.

So, what is emotional intelligence? "Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and understand the emotions of others," said Rayelle Davis, M.Ed., LCPC, NCC, BC-TMH.

But why does EI matter? Strong emotional intelligence can boost academic performance, decision-making, and overall mental health. Discover the importance of emotional intelligence in psychology students and professionals and learn how you can help build this essential soft skill.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

The American Psychological Association defines emotional intelligence as "the ability to process emotional information and use it in reasoning and other cognitive activities." Psychologists pioneered the study of emotional intelligence, dividing the concept into abilities that shape your emotional health and well-being.

"The way I look at emotional intelligence is understanding not only your emotions and how you respond when stresses arise, but also understanding and managing and recognizing the emotions of others," said Ryan C. Warner, who holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

Improving your EI can benefit you while studying psychology in college and long after graduation, regardless of your career path.

Components of Emotional Intelligence

Good EI requires several components, including self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, and empathy. Focusing on improving these components can enhance your overall EI.

  • Self-Awareness

    To develop your EI, Warner suggested asking yourself the following questions: "How do you recognize your own emotions? How do you also acknowledge that you have some strengths and some areas of growth when it comes to how you manage stress?"

    Examining how you typically respond to your emotions is an important first step.

  • Self-Regulation

    Self-regulation allows you to process emotions and regulate stress. Knowing how to regulate your emotions strengthens your decision-making and self-control — important skills for psychology students and professionals.

    "Self-regulation basically means healthy coping skills for stress management. This element includes being able to rebound from life stressors or learning from mistakes," said Davis.

  • Motivation

    Motivation is the drive to accomplish goals. Self-awareness and self-regulation can help you better identify your goals and take steps to accomplish them. Resilience in the face of setbacks also plays an important role in motivation.

  • Empathy

    Empathy and social awareness allow us to relate to others. By developing empathy, you'll gain insight into other people's emotions, motivations, and experiences. That empathy allows you to develop healthy relationships.

    "I think having empathy, being able to take the perspective of others, being able to share and understand their feelings as well [is important]. Ultimately, that's going to help you build and maintain good relationships with others," Warner said.

Signs of Emotional Intelligence

Signs of Higher Emotional Intelligence

Signs that someone may have higher EI include:

  • Awareness of their emotions and behaviors
  • Ability to build strong relationships with others
  • Resilience under pressure
  • Ability to stay calm during stressful situations

Signs of Lower Emotional Intelligence

Signs that someone may have lower EI include:

  • Feelings of frustration on a regular basis
  • Struggles communicating their desires
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Feelings of misunderstanding or disconnection from others

Benefits of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence can benefit you in many areas of your life, from your personal relationships to your professional growth. Here are some of the many benefits of investing in EI.

Academic Performance

College can be stressful. Understanding your emotions and building strong relationships can help whether you're preparing for finals, applying to grad school, figuring out what to do with your graduate degree, or looking for psychology jobs.

"Students can use emotional intelligence as part of their process to manage stress, work with others on a group project, speak with advisers or professors, or any situation that involves interpersonal dynamics," said Davis.

Leadership Skills and Career Advancement

High emotional intelligence can also help you earn a doctorate in psychology and excel in your psychology job after graduation. And EI can strengthen your abilities as a leader.

"Leaders in any profession benefit from using emotional intelligence to properly motivate and guide people on their team," said Davis. "They make decisions by considering what is best for everyone and not just themselves. This can lead to higher satisfaction in the workplace."


Whether you're choosing a psychology program or comparing psychology specializations, emotional intelligence can help. That's because self-awareness and self-regulation both improve your decision-making skills.

Compared to students who may have lower EI, those with high EI can often "make more rational decisions instead of only emotional decisions and acting off of impulses," said Warner.


Emotional intelligence can also improve your ability to connect with others, making it easier to build stronger relationships at home, school, and work.

For example, emotional awareness makes it easier to empathize with others and strengthen your own social skills. "This is helpful for maintaining healthy boundaries with work or within relationships, which helps with living a balanced life," said Davis.


Self-awareness also plays a significant role in communication. By understanding your own emotions, you'll develop stronger social EI. This can help you master nonverbal communication so that you can better understand others and express your ideas more clearly.

In addition to strengthening bonds in social settings, strong communication skills are also critical for psychology students and psychologists in academic and professional settings.

Coping Strategies

Knowing how to manage stress and cope with difficult situations improves your overall well-being. Strengthening self-regulation and motivation skills will help you develop resilience and stay calmer under pressure.

Psychologists often help clients develop coping strategies. However, investing in your own coping mechanisms through mindfulness or goal setting can help you avoid burnout.

Overall Mental Health

Fostering high emotional intelligence can improve your mental health. Knowing how to deal with stress, avoid burnout, and make time for self-care will give you more balance in your life.

Emotional intelligence "helps us to understand what is and isn't our responsibility and this can reduce the threat response in our body," said Davis.

How Professionals Use Emotional Intelligence

Psychology students can benefit from boosting their emotional intelligence, regardless of their intended psychology career path. While the benefits of EI may be readily apparent for patient-centered professions like behavioral and clinical psychologists, professionals in many fields use emotional intelligence to communicate effectively, work on teams, and motivate others.

EI benefits many professionals but is crucial for others — especially for mental health providers. Unfortunately, not all of these professionals possess strong EI. For example, ineffective mental health providers who lack emotional intelligence may manage their own emotions through the power dynamics in therapy, often to the detriment of their patients.

Psychology students should want to improve their emotional intelligence, but if it isn't their strong suit, they may want to consider another career path.


Behavioral Psychologist

Behavioral and cognitive psychologists analyze decision-making, social conditioning, and the connection between thoughts and behaviors. These psychologists develop EI during their cognitive psychology degree program and draw on these skills to understand human behavior.

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists help clients with emotional and behavioral challenges. Graduate students in clinical psychology doctoral programs strengthen their social awareness and relationship-building skills.

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists explore psychology within the legal system. With a forensic psychology degree, these psychologists provide assessment, diagnosis, and treatment for people in various places within the legal system — a task that benefits from high emotional intelligence.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Industrial-organizational psychologists examine the psychology of the workplace. While earning an industrial-organizational psychology degree, students learn about motivation, leadership, and the impact of emotional intelligence at work.

School Psychologist

School psychologists help learners develop social and emotional skills. A school psychology degree emphasizes empathy, interpersonal skills, and relationship building — all things that involve emotional intelligence.

Related Fields

Graduates with a psychology degree can pursue many alternative careers outside of psychology. Emotional intelligence is useful for career advancement, regardless of your field.

Criminal Justice

The criminal justice field includes law enforcement, victim advocates, and probation officers. In these roles, EI can help professionals prevent crimes and assist people recovering from traumatic events.

Projected Job Openings Each Year (2022-2032): 409,500


Teachers, instructional designers, and other educators use EI to understand learners. With the growing focus on social and emotional learning, strong EI helps educators connect with their students and teach them vital skills.

Projected Job Openings Each Year (2022-2032): 857,600


Nurses, physicians, and other healthcare professionals use EI to communicate with patients, educate families, and improve health outcomes. Emotional intelligence also helps healthcare professionals manage stress.

Projected Job Openings Each Year (2022-2032): 1,800,000

Human Resources and Management

HR and management careers require strong EI to resolve disputes, motivate workers, and create a positive workplace environment. EI also strengthens leadership skills, propelling career advancement.

Projected Job Openings Each Year (2022-2032): 1,100,000

Social Services

Social workers, counselors, and therapists use emotional intelligence to connect with clients and understand their challenges. EI can also help social services professionals manage stress.

Projected Job Openings Each Year (2022-2032): 281,600

How to Build Emotional Intelligence

As with any other skill, you can strengthen your EI. "You have to be proactive and intentional and deliberate when developing your emotional intelligence," said Warner. "It cannot be done in a passive way."

Here are some strategies to help build your emotional intelligence.

  1. 1

    Engage in Self-Reflection

    Self-awareness requires self-reflection. Naming your feelings, identifying your emotional response to stressful situations, and reflecting on your choices can help you strengthen EI. Building mindfulness and reflection into your routine can provide time and space to develop these skills. Consider a daily journaling practice to track your emotions and self-awareness.
  2. 2

    Seek Feedback From Trusted Sources

    Gaining feedback on your behavior, resilience, and empathy can help you develop emotional intelligence. Consider asking classmates, instructors, or coworkers you trust for feedback on how you manage stress, resolve conflicts, and communicate with others. Use their feedback to identify potential areas for improvement.
  3. 3

    Intentionally Build Relationships

    Building a network of supportive relationships can strengthen your emotional intelligence. In addition to personal relationships, consider using professional networking as a way to enhance EI. Pay attention and be intentional in how you interact with colleagues and practice empathy in your professional interactions.
  4. 4

    Seek Professional Support

    Psychology students and psychologists also need mental health support. If you're struggling with emotional regulation, relationship building, or other components of EI, consider pursuing virtual or in-person therapy. You can develop coping strategies and gain insight into your social awareness with the help of a professional.

Page last reviewed on June 10, 2024

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