So what makes a good therapist? Good qualifications AND important personal skills.
Just what are these essential qualities you need to look for when meeting a therapist for the first time?
The 10 personal skills that make a good therapist great
Here are the personal skills a good counsellor or psychotherapist should have:
1. A love for helping others.
Therapy is about building trust. If a therapist doesn’t enjoy helping you, you will likely sense it, and it will be difficult for you to relax and be open around your therapist. So a love for the job is essential.
2. Highly evolved listening skills.
Friends and family might be people you can talk to, yet the tend share opinions or tell you what to do at the same time.
A good therapist does not give you either opinions or advice. They are there instead to listen very carefully to what you say, then reflect back to you what you’ve said so you can hear it for yourself. They then ask good questions that help you see new perspectives and draw your own conclusions.
They are also practised in hearing what you don’t say, as well as to see patterns in the way you discuss things.
A good therapist will help you feel comfortable, so that soon enough you arrive at appointments and feel free to share what’s on your mind.
Note that a good therapist is good to talk to, but does not talk back at you about themselves, barring occasionally. You are the one in therapy, not them.
5. Authentic, or ‘congruent’.
A good therapist doesn’t try to be perfect or act like they have all the answers. This is not only manipulative, making it hard for clients to relax. It means they are wearing a mask, that will inevitably slip and leave you having an inconsistent and unsettling experience and perhaps affecting the very trust issues you came to therapy to deal with. A good therapist instead works hard to be themselves around clients, which is called being ‘congruent’.
A good therapist is clear about when your sessions are, cancels well in advance if he or she must do so, and is on time for each of your sessions — even as you must be. These things are usually discussed and agreed upon in your first session.
It’s very hard to believe in someone else if we can sense they don’t believe in us, or treat us as ‘sick’ or ‘weak’. A good therapist instead believes in your worth and your potential to improve. In person-centred therapy this concept is called ‘unconditional positive regard‘. This also means a good therapist never puts you down, criticises you, or makes you feel bad about yourself.
8. Creates a healthy environment.
You need to feel relaxed and focused in therapy. This necessitates that your therapist takes the time to make his or her working environment good for both of you. It doesn’t need to have the most expensive furnishings or be on the best street, but the room should be clean, comfortable, private, and quiet enough for you to hear your thoughts.
9. Acts within appropriate ethical boundaries.
A therapist is a therapist, not a friend, and definitely not more than a friend. A good therapist will never ask you to meet them outside of your sessions, buy you random gifts, never make untoward comments about your looks or body, and never overstep your personal boundaries.
They do not make racist or sexist comments. They will also respect your privacy and not share what you say with anyone, barring their supervisor or if they are legally bound to do so.
10. Accepts support themselves.
A good therapist engages in consultation with a peer or a supervisor who helps them always keep their clients’ needs in mind. Supervision also helps a counsellor or psychotherapist keep their own ego and emotions in check.
Many therapists also attend therapy themselves, or have in the past, which is something you are free to ask about should you so wish. Therapy is, after all, an intense process and a big commitment, and it could be argued it’s best if the therapist understands what it’s like to be on the other side of things, too.