Study: Therapists’ Interpersonal Skills May Influence Client Progress in Therapy

A therapist’s interpersonal skills may affect client progress in therapy, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology. Researchers took a sample of 44 clinical psychology trainees and attempted to discern whether the therapist’s Facilitative Interpersonal Skills, or, FIS for short, would have an impact on client progress. The researchers’ findings remain interesting.

“It was found that therapist FIS significantly predicted client symptom change,” the researchers wrote. “That is, higher FIS therapists were more effective than lower FIS therapists.”

The researchers were quick to point out, however, that the “FIS effect was not uniform across all therapy durations.” In other words, results varied depending on the amount of time the therapist worked with a particular client. In shorter periods of time, the researchers noted that FIS therapists were more effective than in longer periods of time. Here, “shorter periods of time” means up to eight sessions or less, and “longer periods of time” means as much as 16 sessions.

“The psychotherapy literature has provided strong evidence that some therapists outperform others,” the researchers continued. Interestingly, in addition it has been estimated that therapist effects account for 5% to 9% of “outcome variance.” That is to say that the therapist themselves—the actual person, their interpersonal skills, etc.—impact up to nine percent of how effective the treatment outcomes may be. This fact, the researchers write, means that more effortful research must be conducted on “the specific therapist characteristics that account for these differential outcomes.”

For students considering a career as a professional therapist or for a seasoned counselor, these so-called “therapist effects” must be taken seriously, for the treatment outcomes of patients may rely on the therapists themselves.

As noted above, therapist FIS in this particular study appeared to not be as impactful for long-duration patients compared to short-term patients. That said, however, the researchers point out a few noteworthy challenges to this interpretation. First, “as treatment duration increased, the client sample size also decreased.” Therefore, as the researchers note, “the lack of FIS-outcome association in long-term therapy only applies for a minority of patients.” Also, the researchers point out that another factor that may influence why FIS therapists may not have been as impactful for long-duration clients may be due to the fact that clients who continue therapy for longer durations may be more difficult to treat.

A therapist’s facilitative interpersonal skills appear to have an impact on patient treatment outcomes. Although more research is needed in this area, the results from this study remain clear: the therapist themselves can impact the patient regardless of his or her training and philosophical approach to counseling. Finally, because therapist FIS remains so important, further and current therapeutic practitioners must remain aware of their own FISs and, perhaps, even attempt to identify ways to improve them . . . for their sake and for the sake of their clients.


Anderson, T., McClintock, A., Himawan, L., Song, X., and Patterson, C. A prospective study of therapist facilitative interpersonal skills as a predictor of treatment outcome. Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 84 (1), 57 – 66.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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