There have been a number of studies examining what makes a therapist effective. Findings indicate that an effective therapist requires a particular set of interpersonal skills and communication strategies to help clients reach success. Every client is different with a variety of goals and backgrounds, but these basic qualities of effective therapy are universal across all state and international lines.
A good therapist is someone a client feels they can trust. During the course of treatment, the client should feel comfortable divulging personal information and feelings, in order to fully benefit from therapy. If a client feels they cannot trust their therapist, they may hold back information making achieving successful goals nearly impossible. A therapist can build a trusting partnership with the client by emphasizing understanding, non-judgment, and empathy.
• Do you feel like your therapist is genuine?
• Does your therapist respond to your feelings in a nonjudgmental manner?
• Do you feel comfortable sharing sensitive information with your therapist?
The cornerstone quality of a good therapist is empathy. It’s the central tenet that helps a therapist and client bond in a trusting working relationship. If a therapist is unable to understand the client from their point of view or understand the client’s emotional and mental state, therapy has less chance of being effective. An empathic connection will give the therapist the tools to help the client work towards their goals by seeing the goals from the client’s reference point.
An empathic therapist will be able to understand a client’s values, attitudes, culture, and worldview to construct a treatment plan that will benefit the client. If a therapist fails to establish an empathic connection and cannot understand a client’s vantage point, a treatment plan may be developed that will not realistically make an impact.
For instance, if a therapist sees a client is Catholic and wants to be more active in the church, encouraging the client to reach for this goal is realistic. However, this encouragement will not fit with another client who has never attended church. An empathic therapist will understand the client as a whole and develop treatment goals based on the client’s worldview instead of their own.
• When discussing treatment goals does your therapist take into consideration your specific life details such as your culture, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and age?
• When sharing your feelings do you feel like your therapist understands your personal point of you?
A client must feel like her therapist is easy to talk to. Approachability will ensure the client will divulge sensitive feelings and thoughts without fear of judgment. An approachable therapist will give clients the encouragement to open up and share.
• Is your therapist easy to talk to?
• Do you fear sharing certain details of your life for fear your therapist will judge you?
• Does your therapist put you at ease?
A therapist can help a client successfully achieve goals by developing a therapeutic alliance. A therapist who develops treatment plans with the client instead of for the client will help the client take an active role in her treatment. A collaborative relationship is essential to building a therapeutic bond between therapist and client.
• Does your therapist discuss treatment goals with you?
• Does your therapist genuinely consider your input when making treatment goals?
• Does your therapist make you feel you are actively part of the therapeutic process or do you feel you have a more passive role?
A therapist that can adjust to changes and subsequently reassess and change treatment goals is important for effective treatment. A good therapist will actively monitor a client’s progress. If a client seems to not show improvement with a particular treatment course, a good therapist will accept this and adjust. An effective therapist assesses new information received and will determine if treatment is appropriate to new circumstances.
• Has your therapist made changes to your treatment plan when given new information?
• Has your therapist discussed with you how you are doing with your treatment goals?
• Do you feel your therapist genuinely wants to know about your progress?
Positive attitudes is contagious. An effective therapist makes a client feel hope and optimism that treatment goals will be met. Working through particularly severe problems may result in ups and downs and not a straight forward path to success. These relapses and difficulties can be frustrating for the client. An effective therapist will communicate hope especially during these trying points in therapy.
• Even if there are setbacks in your treatment course, do you feel your therapist genuinely believes you will achieve your goals?
• Do you feel comfortable being truthful about relapses and setbacks without feeling you are disappointing your therapist or being judged?
A therapist’s self awareness is just as important as empathic awareness. A self aware therapist will understand her own personal issues and will not interject them into a therapy session. A therapist must be able to draw boundaries between her issues and her clients and refrain from responding emotionally to a client’s problems.
• When sharing information, does your therapist distract you by reacting emotionally?
• Does your therapist ever bring up personal problems when you discuss yours?
• Do you feel like your therapist overshares some of their personal information with you?
All of the above qualities will be useless if a therapist is unable to communicate effectively to the client. A high level communicator will be able to listen and respond appropriately in a way the client can understand. Effective communication requires back and forth. A good therapist listens to the client just as much as she talks.
• Do you feel like your therapist is genuinely listening to you?
• Does your therapist express herself in a way you understand?
• Does your therapist ever confuse you?
The combination of these eight qualities will help a therapist and client develop a successful therapeutic bond based on trust, respect, and authenticity. In Michigan or any other state or country! A strong therapeutic alliance improves treatment outcomes and proves to be a worthwhile and beneficial experience for the client.