14 Qualities and Actions of Effective Therapists

What are the qualities of effective therapists? Find out what makes some therapists better than others! Bruce Wampold, Phd has been researching therapists for 30 years and recently discussed 14 important qualities.

Effective Therapist


Are some treatment more effective than others?

There is evidence that various treatments for particular disorders are approximately equally efficacious, including treatments for

  • Depression (Cuijpers, van Straten, Andersson, & van Oppen, 2008; Wampold, Minami, Baskin, & Tierney, 2002)
  • Alcohol use disorders (Imel, Wampold, Miller, & Fleming, 2008)
  • PTSD (Benish, Imel, & Wampold, 2008; Powers, Halpern, Ferenschak, Gillihan, & Foa, 2010)
  • Childhood disorders (Miller, Wampold, & Varhely, 2008; Spielmans, Pasek, & McFall, 2007)


Are there other factors that do have an influence on the effects of psychotherapy?

The answer is yes—the therapist who is providing the psychotherapy is critically important.


What are the qualities and actions of effective therapists


1. Effective therapists have a sophisticated set of interpersonal skills, including

  • Matching the way the therapist talks to the style of each client
  • Having awareness of self and others
  • Having a range of communication styles
  • Warmth and acceptance
  • Empathy
  • Focus on other


2. Clients of effective therapists feel understood, trust the therapist, and believe the therapist can help him or her.


3. Effective therapists are able to form a working alliance with a broad range of clients.


4. Effective therapists provide an acceptable and adaptive explanation for the client’s distress.

  • First, the explanation must be consistent with counseling, in psychotherapy the explanation is psychological.
  • Second, the explanation must be acceptable and accepted by the client, a process that involves compatibility with clients’ attitudes, values, culture, and worldview.
  • Third, the explanation must be adaptive—that is, the explanation provides a means by which the client can overcome his or her difficulties.
  • Fourth, the therapist is aware of the context of the patient (e.g., issues of culture, SES, race, ethnicity) in the development and presentation of the explanation.


5. The effective therapist provides a treatment plan that is consistent with the explanation provided to the client.


6. The effective therapist increases client hopefulness, motivation, and enactment of healthy actions.


7. The effective therapist continually monitors client progress in an authentic way.


8. The effective therapist is flexible and will adjust therapy


9. The effective therapist does not avoid difficult material in therapy and uses such difficulties therapeutically.


10. The effective therapist maintains a firm belief that together the therapist and client will work successfully.


11. Effective therapist works to coordinate care of the client with other psychological, psychiatric, physical, or social services.


12. The effective therapist is aware of how his or her own background, personality, and status interacts with those of the patient, in terms of the client reaction to the therapist, the therapist reaction to the client, and to their interaction.


13. The effective therapist is aware of his or her own psychological process and does not inject his or her own material into the therapy process unless such actions are deliberate and therapeutic.


14. The effective therapist seeks to continually improve. Knowledge that the client is not making satisfactory progress and that there is insufficient agreement about the goals of therapy provides information that the therapist can use to become better at one of the areas listed above.

For a larger discussion including references please download from this link: https://www.apa.org/education/ce/effective-therapists.pdf



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J. Christopher Hall, LCSW, Ph.D.

J. Christopher Hall, LCSW, Ph.D.

Chris holds a PhD and LCSW specializing in clinical individual and family therapy. He is a researcher, educator, practitioner, and supervisor with over 16 years experience. He has published chapters and articles in peer reviewed scientific journals and is an active scholar on the effectiveness of clinical practice.

December 29, 2015


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