20 Traits Of An Effective Counselor or Therapist
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: April 9, 2019
You say that working with an experienced therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder (and other mental health challenges). I’d like to proceed. What are the characteristics of a good therapist?
Research has shown that therapy/counseling is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder. See our article, “Why Do You Recommend Therapy To Overcome Anxiety Disorder?” for more information.
For therapy to be effective, we believe it’s important to work with an effective therapist since not all therapists are equal. With that in mind, here are 20 considerations to keep in mind when looking for a good anxiety disorder therapist.
NOTE: For the sake of brevity, we use the term “therapist” when referring to psychotherapist, therapist, counselor, or coach.
20 Traits Of An Effective Counselor or Therapist
1. Training and Credentials
When looking for a good therapist, it’s best to work with a therapist that was professionally trained, has a graduate degree, and is credentialed.
While many people call themselves “counselors” or “therapists” after taking a weekend seminar or having studied a particular therapeutic approach, that’s far less training than someone who has completed a graduate degree program. To ensure you are getting the best care, only work with therapists who have a graduate degree.
Moreover, therapist licensing ensures that the graduate has received supervision of their work after receiving their graduate degree, and has passed an exam to receive licensure. Also, therapists might hold a certificate that certifies they have received additional specialized training in a particular area, which does not necessarily ensure the quality of their work but is a good indicator of additional training in that area of specialty.
Furthermore, receiving a Master’s Degree or a Doctorate Degree from an accredited university, and being licensed in the state, province or country that offers licensing helps to ensure that the client is meeting with a therapist who has met the minimum but high standard of training. Meeting with a therapist who is licensed further ensures the client that she is working with a therapist who has had their work supervised, met the minimum but high standards of the licensing Board, and is accountable to the governing Board in their area.
For example, all of our recommended therapists have their Master’s Degree, which entails a four-year undergraduate program and an additional two-year Master’s Degree program. Many of our recommended therapists have graduate work beyond that. This level of training ensures you are getting the best of care from a highly trained therapist.
2. Belongs to an ethical body
In addition to training and credentials, as mentioned above, a good therapist should belong to an ethical body – an association or professional governing body. The combination of certification, registration and belonging to an association ensures the therapist conducts herself in a professional and ethical manner. Each body of certification, registration, and association has a code of ethics. These codes of ethics can often be downloaded from the association’s website.
Being certified, registered, and a member of an association means the therapist is obligated to adhere to the code of ethics of the association and/or professional governing body. This ensures the therapist adheres to the high standards set by the ethical body. The American Counselling Association (ACA) is one example of a therapist association that has a code of ethics.
When looking for a good therapist, look for one that belongs to an ethical body. For example, all of our recommended therapists belong to associations that demand high standards of ethical conduct.
3. Is an experienced ANXIETY therapist
Many therapists receive anxiety training, which is why many therapists represent themselves as anxiety disorder therapists. But this type of training may not be in depth. While a therapist in this category might feel comfortable helping someone with mild to moderate anxiety disorder, he may not be trained to help those with anxiety disorder above the moderate degree range, and especially those in the very high degree ranges of anxiety disorder.
When looking for a good anxiety disorder therapist, it’s wise to look for someone who has extensive training in dealing with all degrees of anxiety disorder, from the mild degree range to the very high degree range.
It’s also a good idea to look for someone who has extensive experience. It’s one thing to be trained in anxiety disorder resolution but another to have years of experience as an anxiety disorder therapist.
For example, our recommended anxiety disorder therapists have not only received extensive professional training as an anxiety disorder therapist but also have years of experience working with anxiety disorder sufferers. Their professional education and experience is a valuable asset in anxiety disorder resolution.
Not only that, but they have also personally experienced and overcome anxiety disorder themselves, are living normal lives without the need for medication, and have received substantial training well above regular programs. It’s the combination of personal experience, lasting success, and substantial professional training that makes an effective anxiety disorder therapist. When looking for a therapist, find a professional with this type of background.
4. Has personally experienced and overcome anxiety disorder
There is an advantage in working with a professional therapist who has personally experienced and successfully overcome anxiety disorder in his or her own life. This type of personal experience ensures the therapist understands the many nuances of a struggle with anxiety disorder and the challenges of recovery.
Who better to help you overcome anxiety disorder than those who have had to overcome it themselves? When looking for an anxiety disorder therapist, look for someone who has personally experienced and successfully overcome anxiety disorder. This personal experience brings many benefits on the road to recovery.
As mentioned above, all of our recommended therapists personally experienced anxiety disorder and have successfully overcome it in their own lives. Because of this experience, they understand anxiety disorder from a sufferer’s perspective, from the perspective of someone who has had to work to overcome it, and from the perspective of a professional therapist with years of experience helping others achieve meaningful success. It’s one thing to talk the talk, but it’s another to have walked the walk.
When looking for an effective therapist, look for someone who has successfully overcome anxiety disorder in his or her own life and who is not still taking medication. Many anxiety disorder therapists still take medication for their own anxiety. We believe if the therapist is still taking medication for his own anxiety, it’s unlikely he will have the expertise to help you achieve lasting medication-free success.
5. Uses proven therapeutic modalities, techniques and strategies
Anxiety research has come a long way in the last twenty years. Consequently, so have recovery modalities, techniques, and strategies. When looking for an effective anxiety disorder therapist, look for someone who uses proven recovery strategies. For example, research has repeatedly shown that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has proven to be the “Gold Standard” treatment for anxiety disorder. CBT generally means “talk therapy” that identifies and addresses the underlying factors – those thoughts, actions, situations, and circumstances – that create anxiety. Today, CBT has many versions and adaptations all geared to identify and address the unhealthy underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety disorder.
Common modalities include CBT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), to name a few. An experienced therapist will recommend the best treatment modality for your specific situation or will use a combination throughout the recovery process.
For example, many of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists are skilled in a wide range of treatment modalities.
6. Develops an effective care plan specific to your situation and circumstance
Even though anxiety disorder is caused by similar underlying factors, each person’s struggle is unique. Therefore, it’s important to work with a therapist who can effectively identify the underlying factors specific to your struggle and who will develop a unique care plan – appropriate modalities and processes – specific to your recovery objectives. Since there isn’t a one-size-fits-all reason for a struggle with problematic anxiety, you don’t want a one-size-fits-all recovery approach.
For example, our recommended therapists use a proprietary diagnostic process that effectively identifies the underlying factors specific to each person’s struggle. Then, they craft a personal recovery care plan specific to those areas of struggle. This process ensures addressing the appropriate areas of struggle so that success can be attained as efficiently as possible.
This is not to suggest anxiety disorder recovery is quick or easy…because overcoming anxiety disorder is often neither. But that the most direct route to success is identified early in the therapeutic process.
7. Sets realistic recovery expectations, goals and milestones
Anxiety disorder recovery is achieved through a well-articulated process that leads to overall success. This process is founded upon discussing and setting realistic expectations, goals, and milestones. Not only does this process help to keep the client on track to success but research has shown that active participation by the client in setting these goals and milestones motivates the client as well as provides a commitment for the client to actively participate in his recovery. It’s this active role by the client that contributes to and determines the success of therapy.
For instance, being actively mindful and present, and doing the exercises and homework designed by the client and therapist during each session facilitates the progress of therapy and thereby positive outcomes.
When looking for a good therapist, find one who will work with you to set realistic recovery expectations, goals, and milestones.
8. Partners with you in your recovery
Overcoming anxiety disorder can be hard work. There are often many little steps toward progress that lead to overall success. During your recovery, you want someone with you every step of the way. Good therapists partner with their clients in the recovery process. Think of it as a “client/therapist alliance” where both parties are working together for the client’s overall benefit.
As mentioned previously, successful outcomes occur when realistic expectations, goals, and milestones are set and the client actively participates in the therapy program. During the recovery process, a good therapist will facilitate a strong “client/therapist” partnership that is based on mutual respect, empathy, genuine compassion and trust. A strong client/therapist alliance can make a significant difference when working toward the goals and milestones that were mutually set.
For example, since all of our recommended therapists have experienced and successfully overcome anxiety disorder, they know the hardship anxiety disorder can cause and the challenges of recovery. They became therapists because of their compassion for others. They do what they do because they have the client’s best interests in mind. They understand the importance of having someone in your corner when working toward success.
When looking for a good therapist, find one who desires to partner with you and is willing to work with you every step of the way.
9. Develops a good therapeutic relationship
Good anxiety disorder therapists understand the importance of having a good therapeutic relationship with their clients. Clients benefit from having a good therapeutic relationship with their therapists. As with any relationship, the better the relationship, the better the outcome.
Therefore, good therapists take great care to ensure that a quality therapeutic relationship is developed with their clients in which mutual trust allows clients to feel comfortable and safe as they take on the challenge of recovery. In such a relationship, clients are seen as the experts in their own lives. Only they know what is happening with their own feelings and symptoms, and in their lives. The therapist offers a second viewpoint, one of observation, which should be characterized by curiosity, openness, and respect as the therapist facilitates the client’s journey toward wellness.
While the therapist makes use of her skills and knowledge, an attitude of transparency and collaborativeness in the therapeutic relationship fosters respect for the client and the client’s status as an equal with the therapist. Proper professional boundaries keeps the therapeutic relationship professional in spite of the closeness that can develop during the recovery process.
10. Creates trust
As mentioned previously, a good therapeutic relationship promotes success. Building trust between the therapist and client is an important part of that.
By creating an atmosphere of trust within the therapeutic relationship, the therapist meets the client’s basic human needs of feeling cared for and respected. Interestingly, research is suggesting that despite the distance between client and therapist, clients taking part in online therapy tend to not only feel as much trust in their therapists as they would in a face-to-face setting but that the initial anonymity found in a relationship of increased physical distance actually increases trust in the initial phases of the therapeutic relationship.
Regardless of the therapy setting, trust is critical to the successful outcome of therapy. Success in therapy depends on the ability of the client to trust their vulnerable feelings to a professional who has stated that she will use her knowledge and skills towards the wellbeing of the client.
Trust is established through various actions such as: belonging to an ethical body that requires therapists follow ethical guidelines, showing the client respect through word and action, showing compassion, demonstrating sincere concern and interest, and identifying with the client’s form of suffering, to name a few.
11. Is empathetic
Empathy is another part of a good therapeutic relationship. Empathy shows the client that not only does the therapist empathize with the client’s situation but that the therapist also has some understanding of what the client is going through. This increases trust and enhances the therapeutic alliance, which can open up communication so that therapy can become more effective.
Furthermore, the therapist can increase her knowledge of a client through this increased and fuller communication. This can lead to a more successful use of the therapist’s knowledge and skills as she adapts her care plan according to the client’s specific needs.
12. Is not judgemental
Judging is an oppressive behavior. It limits others through the use of assumptions and biases, attempts to put the client in a box, and suggests that somehow the client is not “good enough”.
By contrast, a non-judgmental attitude empowers clients and acknowledges that clients can take charge of their recoveries and do the work required to get well. A good therapist will refrain from attributing blame and making judgements yet still be effective in determining areas of work required and assisting the client with techniques that can help him reach his recovery goals. Client feelings should always be accepted, respected, and validated.
13. Is sensitive to your background, culture and personal beliefs
Each person is unique and struggles with anxiety disorder for unique reasons. Consequently, a good therapist will accept, understand, and respect the beliefs and values of each client’s ethnic, cultural, family, and environmental backgrounds.
A good therapist sees the client as a whole being, and thereby, views health and well-being as holistic. Understanding and being sensitive to a client’s unique background is necessary for the progression in therapeutic movement.
14. Provides inspiration and hope
It is critical that the therapist provide inspiration and hope in the therapy setting. In fact, recent research suggests the therapist’s hope and belief in the potential for positive therapeutic change may be a greater predictor of positive therapeutic change than the client’s hope in their ability to change. This research underlines the importance of the role of the therapist in holding onto hope both for, and with, their clients.
Research has also indicated that there seems to be a transfer of hope between therapist and client, such that clients will tend to have increased hope in themselves and their abilities when the therapist also has such beliefs in the client. (ibid.) Examples of practices which have shown to increase hope and inspiration in the counseling setting are:
- a willingness to listen with empathy which shows that this has potential to be the place of trust that will enable positive change;
- helping the client to emphasize her resources, skills, and strengths (often referred to as a strengths-based approach), which encourages the client to believe in her abilities;
- and the appropriate use of therapist self-disclosure, such as a willingness for the therapist to share a true understanding of struggle, offering inspiration perhaps because they too have been through something similar (ibid.).
Our recommended therapists have all personally overcome anxiety disorder. They can provide genuine hope because they’ve been where you are now. They know the road to success and what it takes to get there. They know you can succeed as they have. This hope is important to the therapeutic process, especially in the early days of recovery.
15. Carefully monitors progress and provides ongoing support as you make behavioral change
Overcoming anxiety disorder requires work, and generally, lots of it. Recovery also requires ensuring you are on the right track to success. To that end, you want to work with a therapist that provides ongoing monitoring and support as you make the appropriate behavioral changes.
For example, our recommended therapists monitor your progress every step of the way. And since they have a specific care plan for you, they constantly monitor your progress in accordance with your care plan to ensure you are always on track. If they notice an unhelpful deviation, they gently guide you back on the right track toward success.
Moreover, since our therapists partner with you in your recovery, they also provide ongoing support every step of the way. Ongoing support is vital for success both in the short- and long-terms. Since there are often a lot of changes to make, ongoing support is required throughout the therapeutic process.
16. Is affordable
Anxiety disorder is often caused by many underlying factors. Consequently, it takes time to address them and to make the necessary behavioral changes. This can be a lengthy process. Accessing affordable therapy is important.
When looking for a good anxiety disorder therapist, it’s wise to find one who is priced in the mid-range of therapist pricing. Since the quality of care isn’t tied to the rate they charge, finding a therapist in the mid-price range will help you receive the sufficient amount of sessions for the most affordable price.
There are a few exceptions, however. For example, therapists who are priced in the lower range, such as $40 per one-hour session, may not be appropriately trained or experienced, which is reflected in the price they charge. Working with a therapist like this may not be a good choice because of the lack of training and experience. While the price may be attractive, the quality of care and the length of recovery could be adversely affected.
Furthermore, selecting a therapist in the $300 plus per one-hour session range might also be problematic because costs can run up quickly. Just because a therapist charges a high hourly rate doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting far better care. There are many factors that contribute to pricing, such as the cost of living in a particular area and overhead to run the therapist's office, to name two. The level of expertise is often far down the list of priorities that contributes to pricing.
For the most effective pricing, look for a therapist who charges in the $80 to $140 per one hour session price range. You generally receive good expertise-to-time value in this price range.
NOTE: This doesn’t apply to therapists who offer a sliding scale rate for clients who have financial restrictions and can’t afford the full hourly rate. Many therapists and counselors reserve a few openings for sliding scale clients.
17. Is reliable, punctual and dependable
You want to work with a conscientious therapist who is sensitive to your time. For example, if your appointment is at 10 AM, you want to start at 10 AM and not 10:15 or later. Sure, sometimes schedules can be delayed but those instances should be the rare exception and not the rule.
Also, you want to work with a therapist that is dependable. For example, if you have an appointment booked for Monday at 10 AM, you want to meet on Monday at 10 AM and not have your appointment missed, delayed, or constantly rescheduled.
A reliable, punctual and dependable therapist shows respect for you and your time. Again, yes, there can be exceptions, but they should be the exception and not the rule.
18. Is engaged in ongoing training and education
Research continually provides new insights into both physical and mental health. We believe it’s vital to work with a therapist who is engaged in ongoing training and development. This ensures the therapist is using the latest in research, training, and recovery techniques.
For example, our recommended therapists are continuously upgrading their knowledge and skillsets. Not only does this keep the therapeutic process fresh but it also provides the client with the latest in information and recovery strategies.
Furthermore, all of our recommended therapists belong to an ethical body that requires them to take part in a number of ongoing training hours per year to ensure that they stay up to date in their field. When looking for a good anxiety disorder therapist, make sure she is engaged in ongoing training and development.
19. Seeks regular peer consultation
No therapist has all the answers. And not every case is easy and clear-cut. Working with a therapist that engages in regular peer consultation is important. Regular peer consultation gives the therapist the opportunity to discuss with and learn from other therapists, techniques, and strategies. As they say, two heads are better than one. Regular peer consultation provides important opportunities to share experiences, talk about common challenges, and consult with other professionals about situations and circumstances that aren’t easily addressed. When looking for a good therapist, make sure the one you choose is involved with regular peer consultation.
For example, our recommended therapists meet once per week as a group. Not only does this provide ongoing support to the therapists but it also provides numerous opportunities to discuss the latest research, recovery techniques, and challenges that might arise during the therapeutic process. Our recommended therapists have many opportunities each month to benefit from the collective minds of this peer consultation group.
20. Keeps up with the latest research
As mentioned earlier, it’s important for the therapist to keep up with the latest research. When looking for a good anxiety disorder therapist, be sure he or she is on top of the latest thinking in anxiety and mental health.
Here again is where participating in peer consultation is a benefit. As mentioned previously, our recommended therapists meet weekly to discuss a wide variety of topics related to anxiety and mental health, including the latest research. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the mental health community as new avenues of research open new possibilities. Even though research is changing and growing quickly, therapists can benefit from being apprised of the latest research, which ultimately benefits the client.
The above are 20 traits associated with an effective anxiety disorder therapist. While there are more, the above should get you on the right track to selecting a good anxiety disorder therapist.
We wish you every success in your recovery efforts!
1. "CBT can be recommended as a gold standard in the psychotherapeutic treatment of patients with anxiety disorders." - Otte, Christian. "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Anxiety Disorders: Current State of the Evidence." Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. Les Laboratoires Servier, Dec. 2011. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.
2. Forman, E. M., Herbert, J. D., Moitra, E., Yeomans, P. D., & Geller, P. A. (2007). A randomized controlled effectiveness trial of acceptance and commitment therapy and cognitive therapy for anxiety and depression. Behavior modification, 31(6), 772-799.
3. Knaevelsrud, C., & Maercker, A. (2007). Internet-based treatment for PTSD reduces distress and facilitates the development of a strong therapeutic alliance: a randomized controlled clinical trial. BMC psychiatry, 7(1), 13.
4. Griffith, M.E. (1994). The body speaks: Therapeutic dialogues for mind-body problems. New York: Basic Books.
5. Fletcher-Tomenius, Leon and Vossler, Andreas (2009). Trust in Online Therapeutic Relationships: The Therapist's Experience. Counselling Psychology Review, 24(2) pp. 24–34.
6. Babler, John, David Penley, and Mike Bizzell (2007). Counseling by the Book. USA: Xulon Press.
7. Clark, Arthur J. (2013). Empathy in Counseling and Psychotherapy: Perspectives and Practices. New York: Routledge.
8. Kagitcibasi, C., & Poortinga, Y. H. (2000). Cross-Cultural Psychology. Database, 22, 0221. And Whaley, A. L., & Davis, K. E. (2007). Cultural competence and evidence-based practice in mental health services: a complementary perspective. American Psychologist, 62(6), 563.
9. O’Hara, Denis (2013). Hope in Counselling and Psychotherapy. London: SAGE Publications.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.
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- Free online anxiety tests to screen for anxiety. Two minute tests with instant results.
- Anxiety 101 is a summarized description of anxiety, anxiety disorder, and how to recover.
Return to our anxiety tips page.