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What Do You Value in a Therapist?

Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Tue, Jun 17th 2014

According to experts in mental health practice, who the therapist is as a person is one of the most important variables influencing the success or failure of therapy. In other words, the therapist's personal qualities mean just as much - if not more - than his or her professional skills.

therapist and patientWhat do you think about that? It makes me think of the medical profession. Certainly, there are doctors who have both personal finesse and exceptional skills. But we can all think of a doctor in our past (or present) who might be the brightest physician in his or her field but whose bedside manner makes us want to run for the hills. The same is probably true of mental health practitioners. Personal qualities are important in addition to professional skills.

If you are seeking a therapist, it can be helpful to ponder what personal qualities you value in this kind of provider. Here are some characteristics that research has shown are important:

  • Courage - Therapists need to be vulnerable at times, admitting their mistakes and imperfections and being willing to take the same risks they would expect clients to take.
  • Willingness to model new behaviors - Therapists teach largely by example.
  • Presence - Therapists should not being distracted, but instead be fully attentive to what is going on in the moment with their clients.
  • Goodwill, genuineness, and caring - Having a sincere interest in the welfare of others is essential to being an effective therapist.
  • Belief in the therapy process - Therapists need to believe in what they are doing in order to facilitate meaningful change.
  • Openness - Therapists must be willing to reveal enough of themselves to give clients a sense of who they are as a person.
  • Nondefensiveness - Therapists should be frank and nondefensive when faced with criticism from clients. Otherwise, clients may receive the message that openness and honesty are not really valued in the therapeutic relationship.
  • Cultural awareness - Therapists need to be aware of the cultural issues that may impact the therapeutic relationship.

Which of these qualities do you value in a therapist? What characteristics would you add to the list? Please share your thoughts.


Corey, M. S., Corey, G., & Corey, C. (2014). Groups: Process and practice (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.


Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.

Itís a true blessing to have you visit my blog on mental health and wellness. I also write blogs on faith and caregiving in addition to teaching part-time for Columbia College of Missouri. For more information about my background and writing, visit my webpage at

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