Marks of an Effective Therapist

 Here are some guiding principles I’ve learned through the years when trying to be truly helpful as a counselor. I hope this gives you a sense of what it’s like to work with me. 

An Effective Therapist:

Helps you talk less and experience more.

The other day I had a session with a young man who has a high-achieving, competitive, driven Type “A” personality.  

When we got to his reason for counseling, he was ashamed to admit that he often loses his temper when he doesn’t get his way. 

We started out talking about when this typically happens in daily life. However, we soon stopped talking altogether as I had him reimagine the exact scene in his life where he learned this reaction. After several minutes of mostly silence, he happily reported that he had worked through the issue and felt all the tension he had been carrying in his chest dissolve into a sense of peace and joy. He thanked me for helping him unburden years of anxiety and shame about this issue. He felt confident that he could move forward with a more mature balance of competitiveness and cooperation. 

Above all, a good therapist helps you to have an experience that resolves something that is stuck inside. 

Often, the heart of inner change occurs with very little talking. 

Helps you Focus Inward.

Most of the time we live on autopilot to get through the day.

 It can be hard to make feeling our feelings a priority, and some people do not know how to enter into and explore their inner lives. 

A good therapist can gently guide you into replacing …

… Anxiety, avoiding, and stuffing 

 with … 

Facing, feeling, and dealing.

To do this, the therapist will guide you through a step-by-step process to access a deeper level of awareness of your feelings, beliefs, and coping strategies. 

Tracks with Compassion.

Good therapy is marked by moment-to-moment tracking. 

You have entrusted your inner life to this person. They constantly observe your state and state shifts, ask what you are “getting” or experiencing in the moment, and invite you to share any doubts or blocks that come up to interfere in your inner work. 

Helps you explore with curiosity. 

A good therapist is not only compassionate and good at tracking, but also curious. 

Several years ago, I had a middle-aged widow walk in to my office visibly upset, shaking and teary-eyed. She kept experiencing waves of anxiety without knowing where they came from. After many sessions of cognitive behavior therapy, grief counseling, looking at sleep, diet, and exercise, and trying mindfulness, I eventually learned how to get out of her way, and simply lead from behind…with nothing but curiosity. 

True scientists observe and ask questions out of their curiosity, and come up with hypotheses only after collecting lots of data. They do not play the expert and feel like they have to have the answers. An effective therapist will actually lead you to come up with your own answers. They guide you to the “aha” rather than competing with you to find it first! 

Thankfully, this woman eventually figured out the exact root cause of her anxiety - an unprocessed memory from childhood that installed a phobia of certain triggering situations. After processing the memory in a matter of minutes, she walked out with confidence and lasting freedom from the phobic anxiety she had come in with. 

Helps you contain the work. 

Inner work should be safe and contained; that is, it should not intrude excessively into your everyday life. A good therapist will pay attention to your level of distress and provide you ways to calm and to re-settle anything that becomes unsettled during session. At the end of each session, you should feel grounded and ready to move on with the rest of your day. 

Takes things to a deeper level.

As a Catholic therapist, I encourage clients to understand whatever they are going through in light of their Faith and their relationship with God. 

It is possible to get relief from a psychological problem, then move on as if it was never there in the first place. 

It is better to use the experience of change/healing to enrich your relationship to God and others at that deepest level of the heart.