This psychology podcast focuses a lot on different areas of clinical psychology, psychotherapy and various mental health conditions. I do this because I truly hope to inspire some psychology students to go into clinical psychology and become psychotherapists. It can be extremely useful, interesting and be extremely rewarding work. Yet we do need to ask ourselves from time to time, what actually makes a good therapist because it seriously isn’t down to what degree they have. Therefore, in this clinical psychology podcast episode, we’ll be looking at five different factors that help to make a good psychotherapist that can bond with clients, improve lives and decrease psychological distress. If you enjoy mental health, psychotherapy and careers in psychology then you’ll love today’s episode.
This psychology podcast episode has been sponsored by Careers In Psychology: A Guide To Careers In Clinical Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Business Psychology and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
What Makes An Effective Therapist?
Now we’ll look at five research findings that help to make an effective therapist.
You Can Make Mental Health Difficulties And Still Be A Great Therapist
One of my favourite research findings about psychotherapists comes from Orlinsky et al. (2011) that found that after graduation, the vast majority of therapists have actually been in therapy themselves. This happens for a very, very wide range of reasons and this brings us to an important topic within psychology. Everyone thinks that to be a therapist you shouldn’t have any mental health difficulties and you shouldn’t have anything “wrong” with you and if you do then you will simply fail as a therapist.
This has no basis in reality and this isn’t reflected in the literature. Mainly because everyone experiences personal growth and this growth can take a lifetime.
Of course, unresolved trauma and other mental health difficulties can leave us vulnerable to being psychologically triggered by the experiences of our clients. This becomes a problem when it leads us, as current or future therapists, to experience empathic failure, advice-giving instead of therapy, emotional distancing and even disassociating in the therapy sessions.
Thankfully (I think?), one way to test if there is an area of psychology or therapy you get triggered by is whenever you’re being taught a certain topic and you get triggered by it. Then this is a warning sign that you might have issues to deal with.
Personally, I definitely agree with this point. Since I was talking to a friend a while ago about how my ideal clinical population is transgender people but my friend pointed out how the topic of suicide and self-harm will certainly come up. That was before I went to therapy and even during my trauma lectures last year at university, I was uncomfortable. So it would be interesting to see how my journey of healing has helped with me dealing with these topics from future clients. I think I could deal and help clients with these topics but until I get experience with them again, I simply will not know for sure.
Overall, if you have mental health difficulties, it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll fail as a therapist.
Personal Qualities Are Important For Therapy Outcomes
One finding that should come as no surprise to you wonderful podcast listeners is that a therapist should have certain personal qualities that are strongly linked to improved therapy outcomes. For instance, a good therapist is comfortable with emotional intimacy, can tolerate strong emotions in themselves as well as other people, they’re empathic, have healthy personal boundaries and they can hear and take criticism without being defensive about it.
There are other additional qualities that would be great in a therapist but they’re some of the most important factors shared by good therapists.
As a result, if you’ve just listened to that short list then rate yourself on these traits. See how good you think you are and see what traits you could work on to improve. I know I’m working on my healthy personal boundaries and empathy, because I am not perfect and that’s okay.
Most Therapeutic Models Are Equally Effective At Treating Most Mental Health Conditions
Thirdly, the “Dodo Bird Effect” proposes and it is supported by research that most models of therapy are equally effective for most types of mental health conditions. Although, this isn’t saying that therapeutic models don’t matter because they seriously do and I think they can be extremely useful in guiding clinical practice, but this is why you need to pick models you feel comfortable with. It doesn’t really matter what models you pick as long as you like them and this liking will help you be more confident, happier with your work and this confidence with come through your work with your clients. For example, I really like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, systemic therapy and the person-centred approach because they really resonate with me and how I like to work. Therefore, I would never ever choose a graduate programme with psychodynamic work because I hate it and that hate would show in my therapy work with a client.
That would only harm the client and my job satisfaction.
However, I would say as a counterpoint, know when you can’t help someone because there are better people to help them. For example, going back to my own point, as much as I love CBT, systemic and person-centred approaches and I hope to be qualified in them in the future. If anyone came to me and I thought Acceptance Commitment Therapy or Internal Family Therapy would be better for them, I would have to send the client to those specialists because I couldn’t help them.
I think all the therapeutic models have their place to some extent, so as future or current psychologists we need to understand when other specialists are better able to help our clients.
Different Graduate Degrees Don’t Make A Therapist More Effective
Personally, I don’t know if this is a US-centric point because I didn’t know there were so many different types of psychology graduate degrees, but it turns out that the longer you study doesn’t make you a better therapist. For example, it doesn’t matter if you of a Masters of Science, Arts, Education, a PhD, PsycD, MD or an MSW. Whilst it will certainly impact your career opportunities and the sort of career you end up doing, when it comes to therapy it doesn’t make you more effective.
And as much as you might be doubting me, it is a very strong research finding that has been replicated in a ton of studies according to Christensen and Jacobson (1994).
Of course, this isn’t to say that all graduate programmes give you the same learning experience. Since if you want a PhD then this is great if you want to conduct research and go into academia. If you want to do a PsyD then this is great if you a lot of supervision and classroom learning. Then if you want a Masters of Social Work then this might offer a wider community way of looking at mental health.
However, the point remains. According to the research, the extra years of training offered by a doctoral programme don’t make someone a more effective therapist compared to a shorter degree programme.
Experience Alone Doesn’t Make A Therapist More Effective
Lastly, in the UK, there is a large focus on the Reflective-practitioner model, that focuses on clinical psychologists reflecting on their practice and finding new ways to improve. This is exactly what we need to do if therapists ever want to improve. Since feedback is important in clinical practice and it allows us to learn and adjust the way we work based on it.
There’s a great article called “The Secrets of Supershrinks” that I’ll link to in the reference section below where some psychology researchers discuss how the best psychotherapists routinely get feedback from their clients and they actually listen to it by adapting their practices in the process.
Personally, I totally understand this because our clients are the people we are trying to help, so why wouldn’t we go to them to get better? It is useless for us to talk only to our peers and supervisors about our working practices, because they aren’t the people we’re trying to help. It is our clients that are our reason for going into the office every day, so it only makes sense that we get their feedback and take it onboard.
Of course, this is flat out scary at times and I couldn’t imagine asking a client for feedback because, what if they’re mean? What if my ego gets hurt? And all those other very human fears.
However, a larger part of therapy is being vulnerable and letting go of our egos. We aren’t perfect, our work will never be perfect and sometimes we just need someone to tell us something and then we realise that we were doing something wrong and now we can fix it.
Um, doesn’t that sound like what we do for our clients?
So why don’t we allow our clients to do the same for us in terms of feedback? Maybe you were too pushy, rude or insensitive about asking a certain topic. Maybe the client found your polite laughter hurtful or something.
I actually had a counselling assessment this week and it really did annoy me how smiley and how much the woman interrupted me. It was annoying. I’m glad she won’t be seeing me because I really didn’t like her. And yet because she didn’t want feedback, I couldn’t tell her and she might annoy another client that really, really needs her help.
Clinical Psychology Conclusion
When it comes down to it, our graduate programmes give us the knowledge, tools and techniques to improve lives and become therapists. Yet ultimately, it is down to us as human beings to become good therapists. Mainly because therapy really is about relationships and two humans together in a room talking, bonding and wanting to help the person in distress.
No graduate programme can teach us how to be a better human and a better listener. That all comes from within a person but this isn’t fixed. We can become better therapists and people over time, and if you remember those 5 features of what makes an effective therapist then you might be well on the way to improving.
And helping so many amazing people that walk into your therapy room hoping that you can help them decrease their distress, improve their life and hopefully change their life for the better.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Careers In Psychology: A Guide To Careers In Clinical Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Business Psychology and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Have a great day.
Clinical Psychology References
Christensen, A., & Jacobson, N. S. (1994). Who (or what) can do psychotherapy: The status and challenge of nonprofessional therapies. Psychological science, 5(1), 8-14.
Duncan, B. L., Miller, S. D., Wampold, B. E., & Hubble, M. A. (2010). The heart and soul of change: Delivering what works in therapy (pp. xxix-455). American Psychological Association.
Grenyer, B. F. S. (2010). The heart and soul of change: delivering what works in therapy, (Book Review).
Miller, S. D., Hubble, M. A., Duncan, B. L., & Wampold, B. E. (2010). Delivering what works.
Nemec, P. (2012). Review of The heart and soul of change: Delivering what works in therapy.
Orlinsky, D. E., Schofield, M. J., Schroder, T., & Kazantzis, N. (2011). Utilization of personal therapy by psychotherapists: a practice-friendly review and a new study. Journal of clinical psychology, 67(8), 828–842. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20821
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