What Makes a Good Therapist?
There are a bewildering number of therapists to choose from, so how do you go about finding a good one? This is a really important question because it has long been recognized that some therapists consistently achieve better results than others. In recent years, there has actually been a lot of research into what makes a good therapist. My own approach as a therapist, including my on-going training and personal development, is deeply grounded by the evidence base of what makes effective therapists. From his extensive research, Professor Bruce Wampold lists 14 qualities and actions of effective therapists, based on the best available evidence.
The effective therapist…
- … possesses a sophisticated set of interpersonal skills and can express themselves well. They are good at sensing what other people are thinking and feeling. They show warmth, acceptance, empathy and they focus on others, not themselves.
- … has the ability to help you feel understood, to help you feel that you can trust them and to help you feel that they can help you.
- … is able to form a positive working relationship with a broad range of clients and this positive relationship becomes solidly established early in therapy.
- … provides an acceptable explanation for your distress. The explanation doesn’t need to be ‘scientific’ but rather needs to be presented in a way that is compatible with your worldview and provides a means by which you can overcome your distress.
- … provides a programme of treatment that is consistent with the explanation provided and is acceptable to you.
- … is influential, persuasive, and convincing. The therapist communicates confidence about the course of therapy and lets you know “you are in good hands”.
- … continually monitors your progress in a way that makes you feel that they truly want to know how you are doing. The effective therapist will integrate this feedback into the treatment programme.
- … is flexible and will adjust therapy if the client is not making progress or if the client is resisting the approach. The effective therapist takes new information into account and is always willing to be wrong.
- … does not avoid difficult material in therapy but uses such difficulties therapeutically to help clients achieve their goals.
- … communicates realistic hope and optimism, even in severe or difficult circumstances. This hope is both about you – “you can achieve your goals” – and about the therapist – “I can work successfully with you”.
- … is aware of your background and context, for example, culture, race, ethnicity, spirituality, sexual orientation, age, physical health, career, motivation for change and family. The effective therapist is also aware of how their own background and personality may interact with yours.
- … is self-aware and able to separate their own issues from yours. They can clearly identify and manage their responses to the issues you present to them.
- … is aware of the best research evidence related to the client and their disorder or difficulty.
- … seeks to continually improve, through on-going training, peer feedback and self-monitoring.
This list was summarised from Wampold, B. 2011. Qualities and Actions of Effective Therapists. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
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Some additional research on what makes a good therapist
- Anderson, T., Ogles, B. M., Patterson, C. L., Lambert, M. J., & Vermeersch, D. A. 2009. Therapist effects: Facilitative interpersonal skills as a predictor of therapist success. Journal of Clinical Psychology 65, 755-768.
- Baldwin, S. A., Wampold, B. E., & Imel, Z. E. 2007. Untangling the alliance-outcome correlation: Exploring the relative importance of therapist and patient variability in the alliance. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 75, 842-852.
- Norcross, J. C. (Ed.). 2011. Psychotherapy relationships that work. New York: Oxford University Press.