8 Qualities that Make a Great Therapist

Choosing a therapist is one of the hardest, most emotionally packed things a person can do. However, upon finding a good match between the client and Therapist, healing is almost assured. There are a variety of types of therapists out there with many varying qualifications. There are social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists, to name a few.

How do you know which Therapist is great in their profession? There are at least eight qualities that make a great therapist:

  • A Willingness to Validate
  • Tries to Understand the Client’s World
  • Does Not Act or Feel Superior
  • Has a Deep Self-knowledge
  • Sets Clear Boundaries
  • Is Unafraid to Challenge a Client
  • Would Never Allow a Sexual Relationship to Form
  • They Believe Their Client Will Get Well

This article will explore the eight qualities of a great therapist, the necessary components of successful therapy, and what NOT to expect in treatment.

The 8 Qualities of a Great Therapist

There are many possible qualities to choose from when it comes to answering the question of what makes a great therapist. However, there are eight essential qualities one should look for when choosing a therapist.

A Willingness to Validate. Validation does not just mean the Therapist accepts and acknowledges the emotions and feelings of their client. Validation means instead that the Therapist believes in the ability of their client to grow, change, and get better. The client may lack the ability to think these things about themselves.

Tries to Understand the Client’s World. There can be many differences in the upbringing of both client and Therapist. Some are obvious, such as religion and minority; others are less obvious such as sexual orientation and family of origin dysfunctions. A great Therapist will seek to lay aside their own biases to work well with their client.

Does Not Feel or Act Superior. There are a lot of ways that humans can feel superior to others, such as intelligence, financial affluence, and the fact that they have their health. A great therapist does not hold such views. They will never look down on a client because they are of lower intelligence, poor or because they live with a mental illness. They treat all clients with respect and dignity.

Has a Deep Self-Knowledge. Great therapists have a deep and honest understanding of themselves. This does not mean they do not have blind spots, but for the most part, they are willing to challenge their opinions and ideas. Many have undergone psychotherapy themselves as a part of their training to help them see themselves in a purer light. Like humans, they will still have some prejudices and fears, but they willing to acknowledge them when they rear their ugly heads and face them honestly head-on.

Sets Clear Boundaries. Boundaries are vital to the emotional survival of a therapist and for the successful recovery of the client. A boundary is a limit set to keep oneself from being manipulated or violated. Manipulation may involve telling a therapist a lie to win favor. A violation might be going to the therapist’s home uninvited.

The Therapist needs to be upfront and honest about what they will and will not accept from their clients in terms of behavior. If they will not tolerate being lied to, then the Therapist needs to express this to their client in clear and concise language.

If the Therapist does not wish their client to visit their home, they need to say so, and if necessary, repeat this requirement as many times as deemed necessary. The client needs to always respect these boundaries. They are vital to successful recovery because Therapists are only human. They need their personal space and time not to be interrupted as much as is humanly possible. They need time to recoup after a week of listening to the problems of others.

Unafraid to Challenge a Client. Clients entering therapy often have many confusing and ineffectual beliefs about their world. A great therapist will be courageous in that they will not be afraid to challenge these belief systems that are holding their clients back. Some of those beliefs may be related to relationships, such as feeling that all marriages fail. The courageous Therapist will gently but firmly help their client to see that this is not the case. They will challenge this notion using paradigms easily understood by their client, and in vernacular, they can understand.

Would Never Allow a Sexual Relationship to Form. It is very unethical for a therapist and a client to form a sexual relationship during or after the therapeutic alliance has been established. Because of transference, it is not surprising that some people may become sexually attracted to the person who is helping them. In any other type of relationship, this can be a healthy bond. Still, in a therapeutic setting, these intense emotions can be extremely detrimental to the healing of the client and the objectivity of the Therapist.

Not only is this true, but the licensing board which regulates a therapist’s ability to practice frowns very heavily on this type of activity. In other words, a therapist who acts on his or her romantic feelings towards a client can lose their license to practice. It cannot be stressed enough that a sexual relationship between a Therapist and their client cannot and should not exist.

Believes Their Client Will Get Well. A great therapist absolutely must accept the person sitting in their office can and will get well. Without this belief, a therapist is worthless to the client. Therapists cannot hide their disbelief as their body language will give them away. Therapists should be honest with their client and help find them another therapist who does not have this prejudice.

The Necessary Components of Successful Therapy

To understand what a good therapist is, one must first understand the fundamental components of successful therapy.

First recognized by Carl Rogers, there are components to psychotherapy that are experienced in the therapeutic relationship. The three basic ones become apparent when one researches the literature. They are unconditional positive regard, genuineness, and empathy.

Unconditional Positive Regard

This seemingly long-phrase means that the Therapist accepts their client for who and where they are in the present. The Therapist shows that they believe in their client and does not see them as a diagnosis, but rather as a person. One can see how this attitude will help the client to feel trust quicker and to allow them to open up to their Therapist because they do not fear rejection. Unconditional positive regard also demonstrates to the client that the Therapist does not feel superior to the person they are helping.


No one likes to sit and speak about private matters with someone who is exhibiting a facade. As humans, people are more interested in being themselves with someone who is also being “real” with them. A therapist must, therefore, know themselves well and show who they indeed are to their client. This does not mean there are no boundaries. Some things are private and should not be shared, such as inappropriate details about the Therapist’s intimate relationships. It is important to remember that each Therapist has their own set of values as to what is confidential information. There are ethical rules that they must follow. With a genuine therapist, the client can feel freer to be themselves.


A well-trained therapist will put themselves into the shoes of their client. They should allow them to understand, on a deep level, the emotions and thought processes that are brought to their office. The Therapist will show appropriate emotions such as weeping with their client allowing them to see genuine emotions concerning the feelings they may have on a subject. This is a clear signal that the Therapist is genuinely listening and paying attention to the client’s needs. This is a powerful tool and a necessary component if the client is to experience healing.

With the above components being practiced by the Therapist, a client can begin the arduous work of self-discovery. The work is needed to overcome whatever obstacles are holding them back from living a hope-filled and complete life.

The Seven Things Not to Expect in Therapy

Many people enter therapy expecting the Therapist to hand them the answers. These remedies may be what the client is seeking or a list of items to do that will make them well. If only this were true. While therapy can help a person to heal from trauma, quit smoking, or learn to enjoy life, the Therapist’s power is limited because they are only human.

Below are seven things not to expect in therapy.

The Therapist Is All-Wise, Superhuman, and All-Knowing. Therapists are human beings, not gods with diplomas. They have failings and weaknesses, just like every other soul on the planet. Not only do they not have all the answers, but they also can get their feelings hurt, and they become weary. They have families, experience losses, and some days feel grouchy. To put a therapist on a pedestal is very inhumane and harmful to not only their well-being but the clients.

Therapy Will Make Me Feel Better Immediately. Entering treatment is one of the bravest and hardest things a person can do because it forces one to look at themselves directly and honestly. Sometimes the memories and thoughts that are brought up in therapy sessions can be harrowing. Therapy is not a quick fix. Sometimes it takes years. If one sticks with it, however, they will emerge a more centered, peaceful, and confident person.

My Therapist Will Be My Friend. There is an enormous difference between a therapist and a friend. In fact, it is considered unethical for a therapist to offer services to someone who is a friend or a family member. The therapeutic relationship cannot be a friendship. This is mainly because the Therapist must remain as detached as possible to help their clients maneuver through the maze of their own emotions and feelings. If the Therapist is too close to their client, they become unable to be effective. This happens because they become too caught up on their own emotions and lose their objectivity.

Therapy is Easy. Therapy is some of the most challenging and most arduous work there is on the planet. It takes enormous courage and fortitude to face your problems and shortcomings in the face and share them with a stranger. Because getting well involves feeling emotions a person would rather not face and many times weeping, many faint at the thought of entering therapy. It is essential to understand that such overwhelming emotions will pass, and the tears one cries will cease.

The Therapist Will Fix Me. The role of a therapist is not to force their values and ideas down the throats of their clients, but rather to help their clients find their own. They act like seeing-eye dogs. They will lead you to the curb, but you must decide to cross the road or remain where you are standing. In other words, they do not fix their clients, their clients fix themselves.

When My 50 Minute Hour is Up, Therapy is Over. To think this short amount of time in the Therapist’s office will help someone to overcome their deep-seated fears or shortcomings is silly. The work must continue in the hours a client is not in the office. It is at home, work, or in leisure time that 99% of the challenging task of therapy is accomplished.

Some therapists send homework home with their clients. In contrast, others offer challenges in the forms of thoughts and ideas they wish their clients to consider before they return. Whatever the procedure the Therapist prefers, it is essential to fulfilling these requests. No therapist will insist that a client do this, but if they do not, they will slow down any progress that can be made toward recovery.

In Closing

Therapy is an arduous process that depends heavily upon the beliefs of both the client and the Therapist. While the Therapist needs to harbor goodwill and hope that their client will heal, the client must, in turn, do the footwork to healing.

Choosing a great therapist sometimes takes several tries before the personality of the client meshes with that of the mental health professional they want. Knowing the eight qualities of a great therapist as well as what not to expect in therapy can propel a person to health.

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