Comprehensive A to Z Guide to the Qualities of a Good Therapist

The famous counseling psychologist, Carl Rogers wrote that the three essential qualities for a therapist to demonstrate were Empathy, Unconditional Positive Regard, and Congruence. These qualities are very important, but they alone are insufficient. There are other essential qualities. In this article, I shall list and explain each one. 

If you are a therapist or a hypnotherapist, this article is essential reading for you. I will be speaking directly to you. If you are currently searching for a good therapist, this article will help you evaluate potential therapists. 

A to Z Qualities.  For purposes of convenience, I shall go through the qualities of a good therapist using the letters of the alphabet from A to Z. So, let’ begin with the letter A. 

Attentive.  A good therapist is attentive. You must show your client that you’re paying close attention, and that you’re interested in what the client has to say. Dr. Freud called this “free floating attention”.

Articulate.  A good therapist is articulate and communicates precisely. You want to say what you want your client to hear in a way that doesn’t confuse your client. Be concise and precise. Your questions also should be clear and not confusing.

Accountable. A good therapist is accountable and requires his clients to be accountable.

Authentic. A good therapist is authentic and congruent. 

Active.  A good therapist is active. He does not just sit there and say “huh-huh”.

Boundaries.  Good fences make good neighbors. Good boundaries make good therapy.A good therapist from the get-go, sets up clear boundaries. If you have no boundaries, you have no therapy. Your client is your client and not your friend.

Believable.  A good therapistbelieves in what he does and therefore is believable. Such a therapist is convincing. He knows what he’s talking about and he does not make exaggerated claims.  

Calm.  A good therapist demonstrates calm. If you are nervous or tense, that will affect your client’s affect. The best way to calm an anxious client is to be calm. 

Confident.  A good therapist is confident. Therapy is a confidence game; if you have no confidence, there is no therapy.

Curious.  Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it makes for a good therapist.  So, a good therapist is curious. That is he is interested in learning about his client. You demonstrate your curiosity by asking a lot of questions. But you don’t ask questions about things that violate therapeutic boundaries. You only ask about the things that are relevant to therapy. You certainly don’t want to be intrusive.

Courteous.  A good therapist is courteous and respectful. If your client feels you’re rude or disrespectful, they’re going to run.

Dependable.  A good therapist is dependable. He follows through and demonstrates reliability. Therapy is supposed to be a safe haven. The therapist needs to be punctual and responsive. 

Ethical.  A good therapist is ethical. That means you have a value system, and you are committed to upholding your values by acting in accordance with your values. You’re interested in the best interest of your client. You are not guided by other agendas, irrelevant to doing therapy. You maintain good boundaries. You don’t take advantage of people you work with, or anyone for that matter. You observe the ethical guidelines of your particular profession and the legal guidelines. You get informed consent from your clients before you utilize procedures. You keep current on your continuing education.

Empathetic. A good therapist is empathetic and compassionate. Compassion is just as important as technical proficiency in a therapist’s qualities.

Flexible.  A good therapist is flexible. This means the therapist is not dogmatic or overly opinionated. The therapist doesn’t try to push a specific approach rigidly. The therapist adjusts his therapeutic approach and techniques to the person, and doesn’t try to mold the person to fit his favorite techniques.

Grounded.  A good therapist is grounded. Grounded means present and stable. It means connected to the earth with his feet on the ground.

Honest.  A good therapist is honest but not brutally so. If he has nothing constructive to comment on, he does not comment. He avoids sugarcoating things. He does not lie. He tells stories that are related in some way to the problems that he is working on solving with the client. 

Humble.  A good therapist is humble. He is unpretentious. He shows humility. Don’t be afraid to show that you don’t know where to go next. However, even though you might not know where to go next, you are confident that you know how to handle confusion or uncertainty. Clients enter therapy with lots of uncertainty, and anxiety.

Hypnotic.  A good therapist is hypnotic. You don’t have to hypnotize someone into a formal trance to informally induce a trance through the rapport that develops in your conversation. Some practitioners refer to this as naturalistic hypnosis or conversational hypnosis. The core of this is that the language you use needs to be precise and acceptable to your client’s conscious and unconscious mind. You need to communicate simultaneously to both parts of your client’s mind. And if you use Hypnosis, or you are a Professional Hypnotherapist, the waking hypnosis prepares your client for the formal hypnosis. The rapport you have developed with your client when your client goes into trance paves the road for doing your “hypnosis pre-talk” and then inducing Hypnosis.

Intelligent.  A good therapist is intelligent and needs to be more intelligent than his clients about the business of emotions and the issues they are working on solving. 

Inquiring. A good therapist asks a lot of hood questions.

Instructive.  If you are a therapist, you need to be skilled. You need to know techniques. Being a therapist is part educator and teacher. You need to be instructive. You need to be able to instruct your clients in developing coping skills that will help them become more effective in dealing with their life challenges. 

Interested.  Be interested in learning about your client. There is no such thing as a boring client. People who are boring are boring for a reason. It is your job to find the reason. That in itself is interesting. Be curious about people. People are interesting. If you are a therapist, and you do not find people interesting, then you were not in the right business. If you start to look at people as interesting, and that means every client that crosses the doorstep into your office, you’ll have a good time and you’ll find your work stimulating.

Just.  A good therapist is fair and believes in justice. The world is unjust and unfair. A good therapist is serious about being fair.

Knowledgeable.  A good therapist is knowledgeable and skilled. If you do not have more knowledge than your clients, in terms of the issues they bring to you, then refer to someone who does. You should be thirsty for knowledge, and for learning new things. This will make you a better therapist. Otherwise, you become stagnant. That can lead to boredom and burn out.

Listens well.  A good therapist must be a good listener. 

Motivating.  Related to being hypnotic, a good therapist motivates his clients in a positive direction through his affect, attitude, attention, questions, clarifications, and suggestions.

Neutral.  When you are wearing the therapist hat, you must be non-judgmental and neutral. This does not mean being accepting of unacceptable behavior. What this does mean, is walking the middle ground to help your clients resolve their conflicts. If you are prejudiced towards a particular group of people or issue, then you have no business treating those people who are struggling with that issue. It is never the job of therapist to preach, or try to convert someone against their value system or the system by which they navigate their world. There should be no hidden agenda. If you have an agenda with a client because you’re out for something, then you have no business being their therapist. That is just plain unethical and immoral.

Observant.  To be a good therapist, you need to be observant. You have to be a careful observer and watch the behavioral manifestations of your client’s internal cues. You need to pick up changes in mood, changes in behavior, and subtle indications of defiance, anxiety, fear, anger, resentment, and so on. You need to be able to read your clients. Learn about body language. Learn how to do ideomotor signaling in hypnosis if you are a Hypnotherapist.

Organized. A good therapist is organized and structured. He presents an organized and structured model of what therapy is and how the client needs to participate. He then socializes the client to become a good therapy client. 

Optimistic.  A good therapist is appropriately optimistic. This doesn’t mean pollyannish. The therapist takes the position that he believes that the client is in his office to get better. He expects to be able to help the client to get better. But, following ethical guidelines, the therapist does not make guarantees.

Present.  A good therapist is present, which means aware and attentive. He is not thinking about something else while he is doing therapy, and he is not distracted. He is focused.

Patient.  A good therapist has patience. He does not make you feel rushed.

Problem solver.  A good therapist is a good problem solver.

Questioning.  A good therapist is questioning. He is interested in knowing more about his client and understanding the reasons for the problems and issues that his client is presenting. However, the therapist only asks appropriate questions that need to be answered. He is not intrusive and doesn’t violate boundaries.

Reliable.  A good therapist can be counted on. He keeps appointments, runs on time, and demonstrates he cares. He participates with clients in the ways he says he would.

Structured.  A good therapist works from a model of human psychology and therapy. He is organized. He can explain his therapy model clearly, how he works from that model, and how the methods he uses help clients get well.

Self-aware. A good therapist is self-aware. He makes a conscious use of himself in the service of the therapy. 

Thoughtful.  A good therapist is thoughtful. He thinks before he speaks, and he has a dialogue in his head that helps him to evaluate what is happening in the therapy, the results of his interventions, and which interventions to implement next. 

Technically proficient. A good therapist is well trained in a range of therapeutic approaches and techniques. 

Trustworthy.  You are going to bear your soul to your therapist. Your therapist must be trustworthy. If you hold back because you are uncomfortable sharing information, this will impede getting well.

Unpretentious. A good therapist is unpretentious. Related to what I said earlier, he is humble and shows humility. He is not on a “high horse”. He treats everyone as an equal.

Understanding.  A good therapist is understanding.

Versatile.  A good therapist is versatile. He can work in a variety of ways. This is related to the quality of being flexible. 

Values.  A good therapist has good values.

Watchful.  A good therapist is observant.

Willing. A good therapist is willing to form a therapeutic alliance with you.

X.  A good therapist sets good eXamples in his behavior. He also gives good eXamples that illustrate situations wherein your issues come up and how to deal more effectively with those situations. 

Y.  A good therapist asks whY questions as well as how, what, when, where, and with whom questions. 

Zealous.  A good therapist is passionate about his work.

A good therapist is AWARE

AWARE is an acronym that summarizes what a good therapist does in any given session:

Addresses the most pressing issues.

Watches and listens carefully.

Administers appropriate techniques.

Reframes dysfunctional ideas.

Evaluates session outcomes. 

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