20 qualities to look for in a potential therapist
Disclaimer: This is my opinion and also influenced by the way I work in therapy. I do not profess to have all of these qualities, although I hope that I continue to become more proficient and effective in my therapy work. It is an ongoing learning journey! I have used ‘she’ for the therapist, but this is equally relevant for ‘he’ also.
1. The therapeutic relationship - As a client you need to feel that you can connect and relate to your therapist. You want to feel comfortable and safe in the therapy room so you can talk freely with limited censoring. You may likely be bringing material that you have never shared aloud before. It is imperative that you sense real empathy, non-judgement and a genuine regard from her. It is likely you will get an intuitive sense of this from your first meeting.
2. Belief in the potential of the client - Sometimes in therapy, you may become stuck or feel hopeless for change. You want to know that your therapist can be there with you right through the rocky times, and can instil hope even when your own pot is empty.
3. Competence - You want to feel safe that your therapist is competent within her field and is the right person to help you. You can ask for evidence to gather this information eg: qualifications; testimonials from past clients or a word of mouth recommendation.
4. Communication - Find a therapist who communicates in a style that works for you. Some therapists will be more directive in their approach, whilst others will say less and encourage you to tell your story. You need to think about the style that will work for you personally so you are more likely to achieve the outcomes you are hoping for.
5. Holding - Do you feel that your therapist can hold your distress without crumbling? Sometimes you may feel intensely angry, upset or anxious in the therapy room as you explore your inner world. You want to feel safe to bring your whole self to the therapy room over time and that she can cope with this.
6. Go beyond the norm - Without breaking professional boundaries, you want to know that your therapist is giving you her all. This might be through suggesting relevant reading or gently challenging you or helping you to find additional support when therapy ends (if appropriate).
7. To have clear boundaries and hold firm with them - You want to feel safe and know that your therapist holds firm to professional standards. You will usually meet for a set time period in a specified location on a regular basis. Contact is usually limited to therapy sessions and the therapist is not your friend, although you may sometimes wish otherwise.
8. Humour - I believe that a sense of humour is a valuable trait in a therapist when used fittingly. It can lighten the heavy moments and build connection.
9. Self-awareness - Your therapist needs to know herself well. She can identify when she is becoming over involved. She can detach herself from her own emotions and be with you in the moment.
10. Kindness - I think kindness is important.
11. A challenger - You need to know that she can support you whilst also sensitively and gently pushing you out of your comfort zone. She also needs to sense when to do this, so not pushing you in the deep end too quickly or holding back and protecting you too much.
12. Tenacity and persistence - When the going gets tough, you want to know your therapist is hanging on in there for you to the end of your therapy contract.
13. Has supervision - She regularly commits to supervision to discuss cases and to ensure she is professionally and ethically on track in her work.
14. Hunger for knowledge - She regularly updates her knowledge base to keep up to date with trends and latest research and shares these with you, when relevant.
15. Open to feedback - She can take on board feedback if you are feeling dissatisfied with therapy; have suggested improvements or questions to ask.
16. Skills and tools - She teaches you when to use suitable skills and tools to help you be more effective in your daily life and introduces them at relevant points in the therapy journey.
17. Story teller - She can use stories to help express ideas and help you grasp concepts clearly.
18. Intuitive - She is sensitive to recognising the nuances of communication in the counselling room and responding to these as needed.
19. Can manage endings - She works to manage the therapy ending and allows you to express your feelings about this well in advance of the finish-line.
20. Letting go and promoting autonomy - She ultimately wants you to become your own therapist and to leave the therapy relationship as a more independent and competent individual.
About the author
Harriet Frew is a counsellor, blogger, writer and enthusiast in supporting people with eating disorders. She has worked in the NHS; private practice and in the voluntary sector; working in the field since 1999. Harriet now works privately in Cambridge and London.
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