Mental health therapy allows a client and therapist to work together in order to find some relief or resolution for the challenges faced by the client. It is a profession that come with great moral and ethical responsibility and code of conduct needs to be followed. It can also come with a great deal of emotional burden and work related stress or burnout. Thus, a good therapist needs to have a certain set of skills and qualities to make them great at what they do. These can be divided into both professional skills such as therapy styles, educational background and knowledge of the human mind and personal qualities which include the basis for therapeutic relationship.
The American counselling association (ACA) established a code of professional ethics and values as a guide for practicing as an effective therapist. These professional values include
- Enhancing human development through the life span
- Honoring diversity and embracing a multi-cultural approach in support of the worth, dignity, potential and uniqueness of people within their social and cultural contexts
- Promoting social justice
- Safeguarding the integrity of the counsellor-client relationship
- Practicing in a competent and ethical manner
Other than respecting these professional code of conducts and ethics it is also absolutely essential for a therapist to have certain qualities to be effective at what they do.
- Active listening/Patience
Active listening involves giving full attention to the client, understanding their verbal and non-verbal cues, and showing genuine interest in their concerns. Patience is crucial in allowing clients to express themselves fully without interruption or judgment.
- Honest and transparent
Therapists should maintain honesty and transparency in their interactions with clients. This includes being truthful about the therapeutic process, potential challenges, and limitations, as well as providing feedback and insights in an open and straightforward manner.
- Kind, compassionate and warm
Creating a safe and supportive environment is vital in therapy. Therapists should demonstrate kindness, compassion, and warmth towards their clients, fostering a sense of trust and emotional connection.
- Wide range of tools, techniques and extensive education
A good therapist possesses a diverse repertoire of therapeutic tools and techniques, enabling them to adapt their approach to meet the unique needs of each client. Continuous education and professional development help therapists stay updated with the latest research and interventions.
- Safe space, nonjudgmental and trust worthy
Therapists should create a safe and nonjudgmental space where clients feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions without fear of criticism. Trustworthiness is crucial in maintaining confidentiality and respecting the privacy of clients.
- Reflects and validates feelings/ genuine
Effective therapists engage in reflective practice, actively exploring and processing their own feelings and biases. They also validate and normalize their clients’ emotions, demonstrating genuine empathy and understanding.
- Emotional intelligence/empathetic
Therapists with high emotional intelligence can accurately perceive and understand their clients’ emotions. Empathy allows them to connect with clients on a deep emotional level, fostering a therapeutic alliance based on trust and mutual understanding.
- Good communication skills
Clear and effective communication is essential in therapy. Therapists should be skilled in conveying complex ideas in a way that clients can understand, while also actively listening and providing empathetic responses.
- Flexible/ sets the agenda with the clients
Therapists should be flexible and adaptable, tailoring their therapeutic approach to meet the individual needs and goals of each client. Collaboratively setting the agenda with clients ensures that therapy is client-centered and empowering.
A therapist also needs to have a strong foundation, personal beliefs and values. They should have a strong understanding of self and other. However, this does not mean that they cannot have stressors or emotional turmoil in their personal life. What is important is how they process and deal with these stressors. A good therapist needs to find a way to completely process and deal with these stressors or have enough emotional stability to compartmentalize them in order for them to not affect their work. Many therapists have reported to have complex and stressful lives during their own developmental years. The way in which these complexities and stresses were dealt with make a difference. Good therapists need to make a choice to not to shut off from close personal relationships. Neither do they stop processing their feelings or use what lerner (1989) conceptualizes as emotional cutoffs.
Counselling is an extremely high touch career field focusing on human relationships and interactions. Often in their own families, therapists take on a role of the helper attuning themselves to other’s feelings and emotions. Often training themselves to see the world through the eyes of others. Personal sufferings of the therapist during developmental years may make it easier to relate to the suffering world of the client. It is also essential that the therapist have correct personal values and views as a good therapist is also a good role model.
A good therapist is
- Emotionally stable
Therapists should possess emotional stability to effectively manage their own emotions and reactions during challenging or intense therapy sessions. This stability allows them to provide steady support and guidance to clients.
A strong sense of self-awareness enables therapists to recognize their own biases, triggers, and limitations. This self-awareness helps them maintain objectivity, identify areas for personal growth, and navigate potential countertransference issues.
Therapy can be emotionally demanding, and therapists need to be resilient to effectively manage the stress and emotional burden that can arise. Resilience allows therapists to bounce back from challenges and maintain their well-being.
A positive and optimistic outlook helps therapists instill hope in their clients, even during difficult times. It encourages clients to believe in their own capacity for change and growth.
- Faith in humanity
Therapists who maintain faith in the inherent worth and potential of their clients can create a positive therapeutic environment that encourages growth and transformation.
Therapists need courage to address difficult and sensitive topics with clients, challenge societal norms and injustices, and advocate for their clients’ well-being. Courage also allows therapists to confront their own biases and grow personally
Therapists who have a strong sense of self-acceptance can be more genuine and authentic in their therapeutic work. They are able to embrace their strengths and weaknesses, which helps them create a non-judgmental and accepting space for their clients.
- Holding others and self-accountable
Therapists should hold both themselves and their clients accountable for their actions and commitments within the therapeutic relationship. This includes setting boundaries, maintaining ethical standards, and encouraging clients to take responsibility for their own growth and progress.
- Seeking to improve self and grow both professionally and personally
Good therapists have a commitment to ongoing learning and professional development. They actively seek out opportunities to enhance their knowledge, skills, and techniques. Additionally, they engage in self-reflection and personal growth outside of their professional lives, which allows them to continuously evolve and offer the best possible support to their clients.
- High self esteem
Therapists with a healthy level of self-esteem have confidence in their abilities and believe in their worth as professionals. This self-assurance helps them establish a strong therapeutic presence and build trust with their clients. It also allows them to effectively navigate challenges and maintain their professional boundaries.