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Characteristics of Effective Counselors & Therapists

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Some people may believe that being able to give good advice is enough to make them great counselors. However, successful therapists have several other characteristics that reach far beyond being able to speak well.

Ability to Empathize

Empathy is an important characteristic to being a good therapist. People come to therapy with all sorts of emotional and mental concerns, which may cause them to feel vulnerable. A callous therapist may be ineffective in gaining the trust needed to help resolve the presenting issues. Simply nodding or saying, "I understand" may put a client at ease.

Ability to Observe Clearly

An effective counselor identifies trends of negative behavioral and thinking patterns by simply listening to and observing his clients.The inflection in the client's voice and her body language provides information to the observant therapist. For example, if a couple comes in and the husband angrily says he thinks the marriage is fine, while sitting as far from his spouse as possible, the therapist knows that everything is not "fine."

Ability to Listen Actively

Through active listening, effective counselors guide clients to finding their own answers, but listening is a learned skill. Good therapists are able to listen without interrupting and or offering advice. During active listening, counselors are not only hearing the client's words but are also understanding the unstated message behind the words. Asking the right questions at the right time is also an important part of active listening.

Ability to Organize and Use Time-management Strategies

Counselors are responsible for keeping track of paperwork, including insurance documents and case notes for each client.The counselor must have an organized system of retention that protects client confidentiality while keeping the notes at hand and retrievable. They must also keep an accurate schedule to avoid booking multiple clients for the same time slot and to keep appointments on track.


As a relationship coach, Shalanda Wilder specializes in couples' communication, teaching military and non-military couples, married or dating, how to enhance their relationships. She holds a dual degree in marriage and family therapy and professional counseling; her writings typically focus on relationship improvement.

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