10 Qualities and Actions of Effective Therapists

While there are many characteristics that could be mentioned, my list of 10 qualities and actions of effective therapists is based on the common factors that account for change (see graphic below), the research demonstrating that systematic client feedback via the Partners for Change Outcome Management System (PCOMS) improves outcomes and reduces dropouts, and decades of supervising therapists and monitoring their outcomes.

Two effective therapists shaking hands


What Makes a Great Therapist?

  1. Belief that the client is the source of wisdom, ideas, theories, and solutions. Can showcase client talent and maximize client resources. (Doesn’t mean that they can’t have wisdom, ideas, theories, and solutions too.)
  2. Belief that clients know what’s best for their own lives and have the motivation and ability to reach their goals—even in dire circumstances.
  3. Privileging the client’s perspective regarding the benefit of services and systematically monitoring it. Providing a structured space at the top of each hour to discuss progress and alter therapy if change is not happening.
  4. Skilled at forming alliances with those that others find difficult and structuring the work around client goals and expectations. Are “people persons,” possessing a natural way of connecting, showing appreciation, and expressing understanding. They like people and it shows.
  5. Don’t leave the alliance to chance; providing a structured space in each session to discuss how things are really going with the client and alter accordingly. Understanding that some clients are better served by others.
  6. Skilled at focusing the conversation on what the client would like to see happen and channeling the complexities of topics and client experiences toward something tangible that will make a difference.
  7. Are “dyed in the wool” optimists and convey it without cheer leading or being Pollyannaish. While resonating with client despair, they refuse to succumb to it as the only way to understand clients or what they are capable of.
  8. Belief that therapy is about change. They are not satisfied with doing work that doesn’t benefit clients, and they do not believe “supportive therapy” is enough or that the continual processing of client lives is a good long-term strategy. Understanding that benefiting all clients is not possible.
  9. Don’t leave their own development to chance; monitoring their outcomes over time and taking proactive steps to improve. Are not afraid to do things for the first time or learn from clients who don’t benefit.
  10. Accountable first to their clients, and then to those who make services possible. Knowing that services are precious and must be used wisely—that for services to continue, there must be proof of value and return on investment for funders.

Watch a short 5-minute video about these 10 qualities and actions of effective therapists:





Here is a look at the common factors from my book, On Becoming a Better Therapist:


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As a therapist, it is important to remember anything is possible—that even the bleakest sessions can have a positive outcome if you stay with the process. Just when things might seem the most hopeless, something meaningful and positive can emerge that changes everything—including YOU. This is the power of relationship and why my psychotherapy journey continues on course.


Implement systematic client feedback in your organization using PCOMS and the Better Outcomes Now web application:Outcome Measurement Tool | Free Trial | Better Outcomes Now

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