An aviation psychologist provides counseling and other related services to airline pilots and flight crews. Many major airlines require their airborne personnel to regularly meet with these specialists to address any problems, anxieties or job-related stress. An aviation psychologist who works for a country's military often spends time counseling fighter pilots, helping them work through the trauma of combat. Similarly, psychologists usually also are on hand to counsel all victims, but particularly staff members, in the event of air crashes, terror threats and other calamities.
There are many arenas in which an aviation psychologist can work, but nearly all professionals have the same training and perform the same sorts of tasks. The psychologist's main job is to ensure the safety and peace of mind of those who operate aircraft. This often involves a combination of individual counseling and group therapy.
Piloting a plane, even with advanced technology and autopilot capabilities, is often a stressful job and requires a lot of focus. Commercial airlines have an obligation to their passengers to provide pilots who are not only physically healthy but also mentally acute. Anxiety, stress and frustration can lead a pilot to perform badly, which can have disastrous consequences. One of the main ways that airlines support their pilots is by providing access to aviation psychology services.
Aviation psychologist duties in this context are many. First, they must maintain a safe space where they can counsel airline professionals. They also must work toward establishing a rapport with the employees who have been assigned to their services. This requires the aviation psychologist to take time getting to know each patient and to ask not only about job-related stresses but also matters of more personal concern. Doctors usually must have an understanding of the patient as a whole to effectively help him or her manage stress and avoid job-taxing conflict.
Depending on airline needs, a psychologist might also be responsible for organizing support groups or group counseling sessions for similarly situated employees. These kinds of programs might be required on an ongoing basis but are especially useful after some sort of trauma — a crash, a security threat or a crew member’s death, for instance. The aviation psychologist will help each affected professional process the trauma. He or she might also be responsible for individually assessing employees to be sure that they are mentally fit to return to work after such an event.
Aviation psychologist jobs in the military setting are similar, although the training required is often a bit more specialized. Fighter pilots often have a unique set of mental hurdles, particularly those who are engaged in active combat. Armed forces units all over the world usually require their pilots to attend regular therapy sessions with specially trained aviation psychologists to process the burdens of what they do each day as well as to quell anxiety. Aviation psychologist requirements for this kind of position usually include certifications in post-traumatic stress disorder and military family counseling.