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What Makes a Good Therapist?

therapistcrpdI drew some interesting criticism with my blog post Therapy: A Customer Service Profession?.  Several of my fellow therapists wondered about me as a therapist, whether I was too reactive to the client I wrote about, and what it said about my professional skills and/or perspective.

Since self-evaluation is part of the therapy process for our clients, it seems important that we engage in it ourselves.  So, what makes a good therapist?

Obviously, some of this is in the eyes of the clients.  And many of our clients have different eyes.  Every therapist is not a match for every client.  But we can aim to be, as much as possible.  Therapists need to be adaptable.  We can evaluate ourselves on that criteria.

I don’t advise clients to evaluate themselves globally (as in, “Am I a good person?  Am I a good parent?”, etc.)  That can lead to pessimism rather than realistic benchmarks for growth.  So when a therapist evaluates himself or herself, where to start?

I find it useful to break it down a lot–either to categories of clients, as in, “How am I doing with my clients suffering from grief?  Or anxiety?”, etc., or sometimes going through my clients one at a time.  The key question, then, is, Are my clients making progress by working with me?

If not, then why?  What interventions am I using?  Am I having strong reactions to my clients that are inhibiting the work?  Or are they having strong reactions to me?

We often think of strong reactions as negative, but sometimes strong positive feelings toward one another can inhibit the work, too.  I’ve had certain cases where a client and I really liked each other, and it made for something of a casual exchange, involving, say, anecdotes rather than targeted, purposeful conversation.

Though sometimes, clients benefit from those more casual exchanges.  I have certain clients who are not really change-oriented right now, but they like having a person listen to them in a serious way.  I’ve seen this impact their self-esteem in a positive way.

Now, any time I write about therapy, I realize that I’m leaving myself wide open to further criticism.  I might get comments that question my skill or my intent.  And that’s okay.  Because that can get filtered right back into the self-evaluation process: Are they picking up on something that is outside of my conscious awareness?

What I think makes a good therapist, more than any other trait or behavior, is the ability to be self-reflective.  To do a searing personal and professional inventory, and be willing to change yourself.  Learn from your clients.  Learn from your mistakes.

If we’re too defensive or too insecure to face our inevitable mistakes or too determined to cling to our old ideas or ways of doing things, we’re going to grow bored and stale.  We’re going to blame our clients for treatment failure.  And of course, our clients have a very important role in how treatment turns out.  But so do we, as therapists.

And that’s what my fellow therapists were pointing out to me when they responded to my other post.  They were saying, “If your client vacated treatment early, look to yourself; don’t only point the finger.”  A useful reminder.  So thank you.

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What Makes a Good Therapist?

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2013). What Makes a Good Therapist?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 May 2013
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