What Are the Most Important Qualities to Look for When Seeking a Therapist?

Guest post by Noah Rubinstein, Founder and CEO of GoodTherapy.org and this week’s guest on YOUR LIFE AFTER TRAUMA.

I’m often asked by visitors to GoodTherapy.org what the most important qualities are to look for in a therapist. There are some basics that I and others have recommended, which can be found rephrased in countless articles across the Internet. These factors are often phrased as questions, such as:

  • Is the counselor licensed?
  • Does the counselor have a graduate degree?
  • Does the counselor have postgraduate training?
  • Does the therapist have experience treating similar problems or issues?
  • Have any complaints about the therapist been filed with the licensing board?

These are all important questions to ask potential therapists, and I’ve spent a lot of time encouraging people to make sure their therapist is educated, licensed, and fully qualified to assist with their particular issue. However, there are a number of less discussed, more complex factors that have just as significant of an impact on the success of therapy.

To assist those in the process of interviewing potential therapists, I’ve developed a list of twelve questions to ask as a means of understanding their general treatment philosophy and approach to helping people. Below are the first six. (Stay tuned to GoodTherapy.org for the upcoming full list.) Because large philosophical differences exist among therapists and treatment models, it is imperative for the success of therapy that you find out where your therapist stands on these questions and confirm there is a good fit.

1. Do you believe it is your job as a therapist to give clients whatever you think they need (advice, nurturing, re-parenting), to help them access their own internal resources (wisdom, self-compassion, witnessing), or both?

2. Do you believe that “parts” of your clients (thoughts, feelings, behaviors) warrant removal, do you see these parts as opportunities for clients to have curiosity and compassion for themselves, or do you support both approaches?

3. Do you believe you can help people solve their problems by training them to think or behave differently, or do you believe change requires the experience of feelings and emotional awareness?

4. Do you see the value of the client-therapist relationship or do you approach therapy as an intellectual exercise, a puzzle to solve, a broken piece of hardware to fix?

5. Do you believe that healing, change, and redemption come from outside (God, therapist, partners, others), from within the client, or both?

6. Do you believe it’s best for the therapy that you remain anonymous and cloaked behind an opinion-free, emotionally detached facade upon which the client can project and transfer his or her issues, or do you feel comfortable being yourself, showing feelings, and using useful self-disclosure as deemed appropriate?

The answers to these questions will provide valuable insight into a potential therapist’s approach and clarify if he or she is fit to accompany you on your therapeutic journey. Understanding, collaboration, and an open therapeutic relationship are important qualities to me—and while I am clearly biased, I know the kind of therapist I would want. Ultimately, I can’t tell you what kind of therapist will be best for your needs; that’s up to you. Good luck in your search.

Noah Rubinstein has worked with individuals, couples, and families for the last 20+ years in various social service, counseling, and consultation roles within different communities, including mental health clinics, residential treatment centers, emergency shelters, hospice organizations, home-based therapy programs, summer camps, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and in private practice. Noah strives to expand the visibility and reach of GoodTherapy.org in an effort counter the tendency within the mental health field to view people as deficient & fundamentally flawed. The mission and vision of GoodTherapy.org and Noah’s efforts have been featured extensively in the media, through numerous radio and television interviews and in print.

In addition to his passion for self-discovery and healing childhood wounds, Noah is really a kid at heart whose favorite place in the world is being with his family in the outdoors, hiking, biking, and wrestling with his two young boys, Kobe and Niko.


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