As a therapist, we are taught key qualities that are required to compliment good therapy interventions; why? Because therapy is often embedded within the relationship between the client and therapist. It’s obvious then, that these qualities will come more natural to some, and by naming them here in this blog – I aim to bring them to your attention so that you can make an informed choice when choosing for yourself.
I also want to mention, that whilst it is helpful to find a therapist that meets your needs, it can also be helpful if they don’t. What I mean is; if the relationship with your therapist pushes some boundaries, compared to your relationships outside the therapy room, then this creates opportunity to work through them in therapy; in preparation to using the new skills on a daily basis.
Let me give you an example; if you tend to rely on people’s ability to read your subtle cues around what you want from them, say you’re boiling hot at work and you need some windows open, but you notice no-one else seems to be struggling… You might say ‘Wow, it’s warm in here, I can hardly think right’, inviting someone to hear what you really mean – which is ‘does anyone mind if I open a window?’.
If your therapist doesn’t attend to what you mean, only to what you say, you might find yourself feeling frustrated, missed and at a deeper level, perhaps abandoned – this is the fruit of therapy and what you can work through so that you can have your needs met more explicitly and reduce the negative feelings already listed.
Here’s my top 10 qualities:
- Well developed listening skills – whilst most can listen, it is OK to expect your therapist to listen to you better, than friends and family can. Therapists should listen and you should feel like there are listening, they shouldn’t attend to their own needs by giving advice that isn’t sought or asking questions that have no therapeutic intent.
- Reliability – boundaries an important part of therapy, clear, explicit boundaries are what make us feel safe and how we know what to expect from our therapy and the therapist. Some examples of boundaries are time management, fees and cancellation policies.
- Being real, or ‘congruent’ – if you are to trust your therapist, it will feel important that what they say and what they do complement each other – this is congruence. Without this, you might find it hard to believe you therapist is being authentic in what they say.
- Easy to talk to – whilst I mentioned that feeling some level of awkwardness in therapy may be fruitful, when you initially meet the therapist, it’s important that you feel like you can open up to this person. A therapist should understand that their relationship with you is integral to the work and therefore not start using interventions until the relationship has had chance to develop.
- Believes that people have the capacity to change – this may be difficult to measure but I often attend to this by giving some feedback about what I’ve heard the problem is and how I will work with them to reach their goal. You might want to ask a questions that give you this information in your initial consultation; don’t be afraid to ask the therapist how they work – you’re investing a lot of emotion, time and money – there’s nothing wrong with wanting to know what you’re buying in to.
- Powers of observation – a good therapist can attend to what you don’t say, as well as what you do say and they will feed this back to you so that you can both make sense of it together and it can inform your therapy. It’s also useful that they observe their own reactions to the work and they may share this with you too.
- Provides a safe environment – it’s very important that you and the therapist both feel safe in the room if you are to relax and use energy for the therapeutic process; as opposed to perhaps worrying if someone will come into the room.
- Work within ethical boundaries – your chosen therapist should have a membership which dictates conduct and boundaries – if it’s not clear on their website, you can ask.
- Accepts support for themselves – I’d argue it was beneficial, in fact necessary, for your therapist to have accessed therapy in the past and that they still have access to therapy if they need it. It’s important that a therapist understands their own processes, so that they don’t confuse them with yours and are aware of what they need to do to self care. Supervision falls under this heading too – supervision means your therapist will discuss their case load with a qualified supervisor in a confidential manner; this means your therapy has a superior depth, that your therapist is being questioned on their thoughts and practice and given appropriate advice. All therapists should have regular supervision.
- Ability to manage confrontation – after some time, it may transpire that you have some thoughts or behaviours that the therapists deems as keeping you stuck; the therapist should be able to confront these in a non shaming manner and hold the emotion around the confrontation, so that you can benefit from the awareness and go on to process them in further sessions. Likewise, the therapist should be OK with you confronting them, and either explain their reasoning or work towards a resolve with you.