with his family and community back home in Los Angeles,
where he was the first person from his household to graduate
middle school, let alone high school and college.
Then Garcia’s advisor approached him with the same
message. Garcia took stock, pulled back on talking about
himself, and gradually came to a new understanding of
humility and its importance.
“I became more aware of the privilege I hold [as a
psychology graduate student], and this has caused me to be
more humble about my accomplishments,” he says. “And
I realized I don’t know everything … I can be completely
Learning how to talk about yourself and your successes
without coming across as cocky or arrogant can be difficult,
but it’s an important skill to master, say researchers and career
experts. Studies show that being humble helps you develop
good relationships with others — nobody likes a braggart, after
all. And it can enhance your ability to learn, to grow and to
succeed as a psychologist.
It may also help you land and keep that important first job.
“It’s often a very competitive job market for upcoming
psychologists, and their lack of insight and introspection into
how they are perceived by others can hold them back if they
are seen as difficult to work with or only concerned about
their own career and interests,” cautions Aaron A. Harris,
PhD, executive director of the Behavioral Health Center at the
Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center and past co-chair of
the APA Committee on Early Career Psychologists.
Humility has other advantages as well. People who are
humble, open to new ideas and respectful of others’ opinions
are easier to work with in today’s increasingly collaborative job
environments, points out Eddy Ameen, PhD, director of APA’s
Office on Early Career Psychologists.
“Humility and collaboration go hand-in-hand,” he says.
Indeed, the trend toward collaborative care in psychology
means that humility on the part of clinicians is more
important than ever, say Boston University researchers in a
recent paper looking at the value of the trait for the profession
(Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, 2013). Clinicians need
to be able to seek consultation and accept feedback, says lead
researcher David R. Paine, PhD.
Other studies show that clients benefit, as well. Being
humble has been found to help improve physician-patient
communication and client perceptions of doctors’ effectiveness
(Patient Education and Counseling, 2016). Therapists who
demonstrate “cultural humility” — a focus on others
rather than oneself, as well as a respect for clients’ diverse
backgrounds — are more likely to develop strong relationships
with clients and to see better patient outcomes (Professional
Psychology: Research and Practice, 2016).
What does it mean to be humble?
Psychologists Joseph Chancellor, PhD, and Sonja Lyubomirsky,
PhD, proposed in a 2013 article that there are five hallmarks
ames Garcia had been in his PhD
psychology program at the University of North Texas for two years when fellow students
told him he was coming across as arrogant.
Stunned and hurt, Garcia didn’t know what to think. He knew he’d often talked about
his appointment and work with a high-profile research team, but he hadn’t felt like he was
trying to show off his achievements — merely celebrate them, as he was used to doing