The 9 Attributes That The Therapy Professional Should Have (according To Science)

Many authors have been in charge of determining what are the characteristics and skills that a good psychology professional should possess applied to therapy.

As we will see, not everything is based on theoretical knowledge of intervention techniques; Other more interpersonal aspects have a considerable influence on the success of therapy.

The effectiveness of the patient-therapist relationship

The practice of the profession of clinical psychologist entails the mastery of two very different types of knowledge. On the one hand, considerable theoretical learning is required of the different therapeutic intervention techniques that correspond to the psychological current applied by the professional (cognitive-behavioral, psychoanalytic, phenomenological-existentialist, contextual, etc.).

The second type of competence focuses on the internalization of a series of personal skills that will be decisive in the type of therapeutic bond established between patient and psychologist Thus, the latter will, to a significant extent, mark the effectiveness of the treatment carried out. In Lambert’s (1986) renowned research on the factors involved in therapeutic success, the following proportion was found between the different factors involved:

1. The extratherapeutic change (40%)

It refers to those aspects specific to the patient and the context in which he or she develops; the personal and social circumstances that surround him.

2. Common factors (30%)

They include the elements that all therapy typologies share, regardless of the psychological current applied. This proportion reflects the quality of the therapeutic relationship between both parties. In this sense, Goldstein and Myers (1986) defend the three main components on which a positive therapeutic relationship should be based: feelings of pleasure, respect and mutual trust between both parties.

3. Techniques (15%)

They relate to the specific components that make up a specific type of therapy. This percentage reflects the interaction between the patient and the theoretical-practical components used by the professional, that is, how the patient internalizes the methods and contents that make up the intervention.

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4. The placebo effect (15%)

It is linked to the patient’s expectations and the credibility that the psychological intervention generates.

Attributes of the professional therapist

As can be seen, a high percentage of the causes that motivate psychological change involve variables that depend on the skills derived from the professional. As Cormier and Cormier (1994) pointed out in their studies, the efficiency of this figure is based on a balance between one’s own interpersonal skills and those of a more technical nature

According to the aforementioned authors, the characteristics that an efficient therapist must possess are the following:

  1. Possess an adequate level of intellectual competence
  2. Have a dynamic, persistent and energetic attitude in professional practice.
  3. Show flexibility in the management of theories, techniques and methods as well as the acceptance of different equally valid lifestyles.
  4. Act based on a balance between patient support and protection.
  5. Be guided by constructive and positive motivations showing sincere interest in the patient.
  6. Have a sufficient level of self-knowledge about one’s own limitations and strengths (theoretical and interpersonal).
  7. Self-perception of sufficient professional competence.
  8. Internal psychological needs resolved and self-regulation capacity that prevent the interference of personal aspects of the psychologist in the development of therapy. This phenomenon is known as countertransference.
  9. Strictly comply with ethical and moral principles included in the professional code of ethics (confidentiality, referral to another professional, case supervision and avoidance of the establishment of non-professional relationships between both parties).

Factors that favor the therapeutic relationship

Apart from the capacities previously indicated, Bados (2011) mentions another series of aspects related to the therapist that facilitate the establishment of an adequate bond between the therapist and the patient:

2. Courteousness

A moderate expression of interest, encouragement, approval, and appreciation are related to establishing a more favorable work environment. At this point, it is also possible to find a balance in the manifestation of the physical contact emitted, since These types of gestures can be easily misinterpreted by the patient.

3. Competition

In this area, both the psychologist’s degree of professional experience and mastery in the administration and application of the contents included in specific therapy are decisive. The results of Howard’s (1999) research seem to indicate that mastery of this last aspect over the first is more associated with a good result of the intervention.

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Cormier and Cormier (1994) present the following samples of non-verbal behavior as a reflection of professional competence: eye contact, frontal body disposition, fluency in speech relevant and thought-provoking questions, and verbal indicators of attention.

4. Trust

It seems that this factor It depends on the perception generated by the patient from the combination of phenomena such as: competence, sincerity, motives and intentions, acceptance without value judgments, cordiality, confidentiality, dynamism and security and, finally, the emission of non-defensive responses (Cormier and Cormier, 1994).

5. Attraction

A certain level of perception of the therapist as attractive correlates positively with the outcome of the treatment, as Beutler, Machado and Neufeldt (1994) have shown. This attraction is based on the degree of friendliness and cordiality elicited by the professional as well as in the perception of similar aspects between it and the patient (Cormier and Cormier, 1994).

Actions such as eye contact, frontal body position, smiling, nodding, soft, modulated voice, displays of understanding, some degree of self-disclosure, and consensus on the structure of therapy increase the patient’s interest in their psychologist

6. Degree of directivity

An intermediate degree of directivity or structuring of the therapy is recommended where a balance can be found in aspects such as the facilitation of the instructions to follow, the presentation of the contents of the tasks and topics addressed in the sessions, the resolution of doubts or the confrontation of certain ideas of the patient. All this seems guarantee a certain level of autonomy in the patient as well as the feeling of feeling guided and supported in the treatment process.

Professional attitudes that help progress

In the sixties Carl Rogers proposed the fundamental pillars on which the therapist’s attitude towards the patient should be based: empathy, unconditional acceptance and authenticity. Subsequently, the skill of active listening has also been considered very relevant.

1. Empathy

It is defined as the ability to understand the patient from the patient’s perspective and, very relevant, the fact of knowing how to communicate it to them. Therefore, previously the therapist must be competent in understanding cognitions, emotions and behaviors as the patient would process them, not interfering with the professional’s perspective The second point is the one that will really make it easier for the patient to feel understood.

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2. Unconditional acceptance

It refers to accepting the patient as he is, without judgment, and valuing him as a person deserving of dignity. Truax and Carkhuff (1967, cited in Goldstein and Myers, 1986). Various elements make up this type of attitude, such as: high commitment to the patient, desire to understand them or express a non-evaluative attitude

3. Authenticity

This attitude involves showing oneself as oneself, expressing one’s own feelings and internal experiences without falsifying them. Acts such as a spontaneous smile, making comments without double meaning or the expression of some sincere personal aspect indicate authenticity. However, excessive spontaneity is not recommended; It seems relevant that personal disclosures by the therapist are oriented exclusively to the benefit of the patient and the therapy.

4. Active listening

It consists of the ability to receive the interlocutor’s message (taking into account verbal and non-verbal language), its adequate processing and the issuance of a response that indicates that the psychologist is paying full attention to the patient.

  • Related article: “Active listening: the key to communicating with others”

Attitudes that hinder the progress of the sessions

Finally, a series of actions have been brought together that can produce the opposite effect and harm the favorable evolution of psychological therapy. This list reflects the main behaviors that the psychologist should avoid manifesting to the patient:

  • Show insecurity about the interpretation made about the problem consulted
  • Maintain a cold or distant attitude, be critical or authoritarian.
  • Ask too many questions
  • Abruptly interrupting the patient.
  • Incorrectly tolerating and managing the patient’s emotional expressions of crying.
  • Want to be appreciated by the patient and get your approval
  • Trying to eliminate the patient’s psychological discomfort too quickly
  • Unbalance the approach between the simple and more complex aspects of therapy.
  • Avoid discussing conflictive topics for fear that the patient may emit an intense emotional reaction.
  • Bados, A. and Grau, E. (2011). Therapeutic skills. University of Barcelona. Barcelona.

  • Cormier, W. and Cormier, L. (1994). Interview strategies for therapists: Basic skills and cognitive-behavioral interventions. Bilbao: Desclรฉe de Brouwer. (Original 1991).

  • Lambert, M. J. (1986). Implications on psychotherapy outcome research for eclectic psychotherapy. In JC Norcross (Ed.), Handbook of Eclectic Psychotherapy. New York: Brunner-Mazel.