I have to approach this question from the standpoint of what I want in a therapist when I’m getting therapy.  I am not certain that the qualities I want are what make a good therapist, but they are the best I have to go on.

I want a therapist to seem like they are on my team.  I want them to be neutral in that I don’t want them taking my side against other people in my life, I just want to have the sense that they are backing me, that they are excited for my successes and sympathetic about my failures, that they are taking a stand for me.

I want a therapist to seem emotionally grounded, like there’s nothing I could say that would freak them out or turn them against me; that their compassion for me is not contingent on a more limited world-view than my own.  I don’t want to hold back or to feel like I’m taking care of them or that our relationship needs delicate management.  In short, I want them to be able to think clearly about me, to have flexible, calm thinking in the face of my troubles.

In addition to being emotionally grounded, I want a therapist to be good with emotions.  I want them to be able to recognize and name emotions and emotional situations, and be able to resolve them well.  I don’t always recognize when I’m worked up about something and I can benefit from, “It sounds like you’re pissed off,” or whatever it is.  And then once I’m aware of what’s going on, I want to get good, strong, compassionate attention and useful directions.

I want a therapist to come fairly quickly to have more perspective on me and my situation than I do.  I want them to be able to spot my misconceptions and counter-productive behavior, to have good ideas about what it might take to shift them, and to be able to introduce those ideas in a way that is effective.  I like to get homework, so I guess I like a therapist to be directive, but not instead of listening well.  I want a therapist to be challenging, but at just the right pace.

I want a therapist to have a certain amount of charisma and to be really interested in me.  I want what they say to have impact on me and I don’t want to get the sense that they are faking it or going through the motions.  A therapist with a bored tone of voice will have a hard time getting me to be open or honest.

I’m split on the issue of dogmatic therapists.  I’ve benefited from dogmatic counselors in the past, and I think that in order to be charismatic and to seem confident, therapists need to believe in what they are doing, that the wise application of their model will help me.  I don’t want, however, to think that it’s to the detriment of their flexible thinking or kindness.  If I start to get the impression that their model is more important to them than I am, I will close up.  I also want a therapist to speak my language.  That is, I can appreciate information in the language of their dogma, be it science, mythology, or post-modernism, but I want a therapist to understand that language just points to experiences—if they start to sound like they believe it, they’ll lose me.  I’ll start deconstructing them and their message, translating it into my preferred terms, and feeling superior to my therapist, which is distracting.

I’m least sure about this one, in terms of it being an important quality for a therapist, but I want to want to be like my therapist.  I want them to have enviable lives.  I don’t want to be thinking, “Who are you to give me advice?” This desire doesn’t make much sense from a systems perspective—after all, if a therapist knows just how to perturb my system so that it will reorganize, then what does it matter if all their kids and ex-wives hate them? In fact, some of the most brilliant therapists I know have traits that I would be afraid to inherit, yet I believe I’ve benefited greatly from their attention.  It does seem that it’s more important that they can think clearly about me than it is that they can think clearly about themselves.  Still, ideally I’d like to want to be like my therapist.

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