When you seek counseling for a personal problem or a mental health issue, you want to trust that you’re going to receive the help that benefits you and your life. Specific counseling characteristics can make your sessions with your therapist more effective.
So, what makes a good therapist? Certain vital characteristics can enhance a counselor’s ability to help you out.
Keep reading to learn about the seven characteristics of a good therapist, as well as qualities of effective therapy sessions, so you know what to look for when you seek help.
What is effective counseling?
Effective counseling provides you with tools and coping strategies to overcome problems you are facing in your life and to manage the symptoms of mental and emotional health problems.
An effective therapy program provides support and helps you develop the skills you need to reach your full potential. Supportive counseling comes along with the following characteristics:
It makes you feel as if your feelings are validated.
It helps you to develop the skills needed to manage your mental health.
It is strengths-based and empowers you to find solutions to your problems.
It allows you to look at other perspectives and learn new ways of thinking.
Effective therapy will have the features above, and in most cases, these counseling characteristics come along with a therapist who demonstrates a specific skill set, which we discuss below.
What makes counseling effective
When people think of what makes a good therapist, they often think of the specific type of therapy that a counselor uses. There are several therapeutic approaches available, and while there are some that have been well-studied and have demonstrated better outcomes than others.The truth is that the specific type of therapy doesn’t matter as much as who the therapist is as a person.
Research has pretty consistently shown that what makes counseling effective is the specific traits of a good counselor. These will be detailed below, but in general, personality traits like empathy, warmth, and strong social skills make for effective counseling.
If your therapist demonstrates these skills, you are more likely to receive effective counseling services, regardless of the specific therapeutic modality they utilize.
3 effective counseling characteristics
While there are a variety of factors that determine what makes counseling effective, the three counseling characteristics below are commonly regarded as some of the most critical signs of effective therapy:
1. A quality counselor
As indicated above, the primary factor determining whether counseling is effective is how strong the counselor is. Regardless of what type of therapy the therapist practices, a person who has the characteristics of a good therapist will provide better services than one whose therapy skills are not as strong.
Experts have long considered therapeutic alliance as a necessary factor for effective therapy. When there is a solid therapeutic alliance, the counselor and the client have a collaborative relationship, meaning they work together to set therapy goals and view each other as equals.
When therapy is client-centered, the therapist is non-directive and allows the client to set goals for therapy. Instead of sessions being about the therapist giving advice, the therapist gently guides the client toward exploring their feelings and determining what is best for them.
Indeed, a counselor needs to have proper education and training. They also need to be qualified to use therapeutic techniques with clients, and they should be able to set the stage for change by forming a strong alliance with clients and remaining client-centered.
Beyond the general counseling characteristics above, the seven qualities below are key characteristics of effective counselors:
The ability to see things from another person’s point of view and understand their struggles is one of the essential counseling characteristics. This allows a therapist to be sensitive to people’s emotions and feelings, which is why empathy is important for supportive counseling.
Remember, empathy is different from sympathy. An empathetic therapist will take on your perspective and truly walk through challenging times with you.
To learn more about empathy, watch this video:
Counseling characteristics include remembering that no two clients who come to therapy are the same. Each client has their own values, culture, and belief system, so a therapist must be flexible and alter treatment plans according to each client’s unique needs.
A flexible approach means they will be willing to alter treatment modalities to make you more comfortable and to bring them in alignment with your beliefs and values.
Therapy requires clients to share some of their deepest feelings and struggles with another person, so it is important to feel that you can trust your therapist. People are typically pretty skilled at identifying whether someone is trustworthy.
If your gut tells you that you can trust your therapist, you’re probably right, and you’ve found a quality counselor who is well versed with good counseling characteristics.
Keep in mind that a therapist is required by law to keep information from your sessions confidential under most circumstances, and a therapist who can adhere to this policy shows trustworthiness.
It probably goes without saying, but the characteristics of a counselor include having strong social skills. This means they can understand other people and their emotions and communicate clearly and effectively.
During therapy sessions, therapists may provide psychoeducation to inform people about mental and emotional health issues. This requires strong social skills so that they can communicate that information effectively.
People may come to therapy in the darkest periods of their lives, and they may feel that the future is bleak, and there is nothing they can do to change or improve their situation.
One of the qualities of an effective counselor is the ability to remain optimistic and show clients that there is hope for a better future. It is one of the essential counseling characteristics.
Indeed, you want your therapist to be realistic, but they should take an optimistic outlook and help you to see that change is possible with hard work.
When your therapist seems warm and caring, you will be more comfortable opening up to them. On the other hand, if they come across as cold and judgmental, you aren’t likely to make much progress in therapy.
Look for a warm, accepting, and approachable counselor, as these qualities of a counselor will enhance their ability to help you.
Life is busy and stressful, and sometimes we find ourselves multitasking, but this isn’t something you want to happen during your therapy sessions. One of the critical traits of a good counselor is that they can be present with you during your therapy sessions. This means that you can tell they are entirely focused on you.
They give you their full attention, and you can tell that they are actively listening and interested in your story. If you get the sense that your counselor is distracted or thinking about other things, you probably aren’t going to make much progress.
Just as counseling characteristics can make your therapy sessions effective, therapists follow a general process to make therapy work. This involves beginning with a rapport-building stage, during which your therapist gets to know you and establishes a sense of trust and safety.
Next, your therapist will complete an assessment. They will ask questions to help them understand the history of the problem that has brought you to counseling, as well as what is going on now that you’d like to work on in therapy.Once they identify the problem from your perspective, they will work collaboratively to develop goals and a treatment plan. This is one of the important characteristics of counseling.
Once a treatment plan is in place, your therapist will work with you to develop solutions to your problems and help you create fundamental changes in your thoughts and behavior. This is one of the essential qualities of a good counselor.
Your therapist will also regularly evaluate your progress to ensure that the treatment plan is working for effective counseling. Since flexibility is one of the characteristics of a good counselor, your therapist may modify your treatment plan, as necessary, to meet your needs.
Ultimately, your therapist will help you develop the skills necessary for success once therapy sessions end. You may be sad to see therapy come to an end, but a good therapist will empower you to make positive changes and carry them with you after therapy.
Counseling is sometimes necessary to help us overcome personal problems or mental health issues, and certain counseling characteristics can make the process more effective.
If you’re looking for effective therapy services, it is vital to choose someone who shows the qualities of an effective counselor. They would have the ability to be empathetic, a willingness to be flexible, and the capability to be warm, present, and optimistic.
If you’re looking for a quality therapist near you, searching a government database of providers in your area can be a good starting point. You can also contact your local mental health board to refer to a nearby therapist or reach out to your primary care doctor, who can refer you for counseling.
Another option that has become increasingly popular is seeking the services of an online therapist. As the world becomes more technologically advanced, teletherapy services via webcam, cellphone, email, or text message, are part of the norm.
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Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.