What Makes an Effective Therapist?

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What Makes an Effective Therapist?

Many professionals may ask: What makes an effective therapist?

Although no one answer to this question may emerge, there are, as it happens, approaches to therapeutic practice that may enhance a professional’s effectiveness. How well a therapist relates to his or her clients, the school of thought the therapist adheres to, and the professional’s individual personality may all impact his or her effectiveness as a therapist.

Below are five approaches that may be used by a effective psychotherapists.

Accurately Identify Problems. Diagnosing psychological pathologies can be difficult and remain outside of the scope of this article; however, put more simply, accurately identifying problems remains the first step to seeking a potential solution. Defining problems precisely and accurately—whether these problems are as serious as a clinical pathology or are less serious—remains the mark of an effective therapist.

This step can be applied outside of the therapeutic realm, too. It is useful to remember that whether in the research or clinical environments, therapists may work alone or in a team, so effective therapists always accurately identify problems before seeking solutions.

Ethical Decision-making. Ethics in therapy remains a vast subject—and it may appear so straight forward that mentioning it may seem like a waste—but ethical violations do occur, and it is useful (and moral) to practice ethical decision-making. More specifically, within the context of therapy, professionals may often be faced with ethical decisions routinely, and the decisions he or she may make can profoundly impact their lives, the lives of his or her clients, co-workers and the wider society.

Effective therapists do more than make ethical decisions, however. They model proper behaviors and encourage the same from others.

Evidence-based Interventions. When a therapist recommends or uses a corrective intervention, he or she is most effective when that intervention is based on solid evidence. Although many forms, schools of thought and approaches to therapy abound, interventions that are based on evidence and that have been shown to work increase a therapist’s effectiveness.

Evidence-based interventions include any form of treatment that has been shown to work empirically. Along with following ethical protocols, this means that the treatment has undergone peer review, clinical trials and other testing. What’s more, therapeutic treatments and interventions that are evidence based tend to be the most effective, and these approaches are, generally speaking, most likely to be recommended by professional organizations and are recognized by government agencies.

Reasonable Goals and Measurable Outcomes. Effective therapists set reasonable goals and measurable outcomes for their clients (and, at times, themselves) to attain. That is to say once a problem is accurately defined, the next stage is select a goal or outcome that can be reasonably attained and measured. Effective therapists also know preciously where a client is toward achieving the assigned goal. This not only encourages continued motivation for the client but also provides data for the therapist. Knowing where the client is toward obtaining the assigned goal remains a requirement for any professional.

Practice Empathetic Listening. Most people who enter the so-called “helping professions”—professions that include therapy, education or social work—remain naturally interested in helping others. That said, however, empathetic listening remains an important tool for the effective therapist. Naturally, therapists who are empathetic listeners encourage trust from their clients, and clients who trust their therapists are more likely to engage in a more open discourse. Empathetic listening is similar to active listening; however, the difference lies in a stronger element of concern on the part of the therapist.

The above mentioned five elements of an effective therapist is not all-inclusive. There may be others; yet accurately defining problems, ethical decision-making, evidence-based interventions, setting reasonable goals and measurable outcomes and practicing empathetic listening remain a good foundation for the effective therapist. Professionals who strive to be better in their work may possess some or a mixture of these qualities.

Ultimately, what is at stake is implementing best practices for the client. Effective therapists know this, and they continually and consistently apply these approaches (as well as others) in their work.

Kenny Luck
Kenny Luck
Kenny Luck is an author and educator from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. A graduate of Marywood University in Scranton, PA, Luck holds a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and graduated with a Master's Degree in Education from the same institution in 2010. He has written for local publications such as The Weekender. His published work includes: Thumbing Through Thoreau (2010), NEPATIZED (2011), and 101 Facts of Love (2014). Luck has worked in public relations and media, and has taught college-level writing courses at several colleges and universities around Northeastern Pennsylvania. In 2010, he was voted "Best Author" by Electric City readers.

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