A Good Therapist - part 3
In the final part of our Good Therapist series, we look at the importance of empathy when choosing your therapist.
Empathy, or being able to “put yourself in somebody else’s shoes,” is a hallmark of good therapy. And therapists are often naturally empathic, as this is one of the common reasons they choose to be therapists in the first place. Demonstrating empathy within the therapeutic setting helps the client to feel safe, to feel understood, and ultimately to feel like they can make progress.
Empathy is what helps build a relationship with your therapist. And your relationship with the therapist is key to the success of therapy itself. Without a strong relationship, the therapist has little chance of genuinely helping the client work through difficulties, and the client has an equally low chance of progressing.
A number of the warning signs refer to a “dual relationship,” which is quite simply one where the client knows the therapist in another context or setting besides the counselling environment. This secondary relationship can cause confusion for the client, which is why it’s typically an ethical issue. Good therapists maintain a productive and professional relationship with you at all times. While the relationship with your therapist can seem quite close—after all, you are sharing your most private thoughts, sometimes over long periods of time—therapists are trained to manage this closeness and not cross the ethical line of becoming friends or romantic partners. The foundation for good therapy exists when:
1. Your therapist maintains a professional relationship with you at all times. Their demeanor could be friendly, but they never depict your relationship as a friendship.
2. Your therapist treats you as a “whole person,” an equal who is not defined by your issues and does not make negative judgments about you. You feel genuine care and concern from your therapist. One of the hallmarks of good therapy is known as unconditional positive regard. This is an idea that is taught in counselling programs across the country; it maintains that the therapist should see clients in a positive light regardless of any behaviour, lifestyle, or other issues.
2. Your therapist is respectful of your values and belief systems and does not exhibit an agenda founded on personal values or belief systems. They are sensitive to your culture and religion and use aspects of these as part of your therapy, when appropriate. If they lack knowledge about your beliefs, they ask questions in a respectful way to gain better insight.
4. Your therapist knows you well enough to understand any physical boundary issues you may have and does not “move into your space” or touch you without asking if it’s okay with you.
5. Your therapist empathises with you at an appropriate level, such as a natural or fitting response or level of emotion to your life’s experiences, and not one that is either overdone or exaggerated, or flat and almost non-existent.