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Perspectives on the Essential Characteristics of Highly Effective Psychotherapists Open Access


Other title
Thematic Analysis
Characteristics of Therapists
Master Therapists
Psychotherapy Research
Client Perspectives
Highly Effective Therapists
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Wallace, Kevin S. D.
Supervisor and department
Truscott, Derek (Educational Psychology)
Examining committee member and department
Hanson, William(Educational Psychology)
Buck, George (Educational Psychology)
Goh, Michael (University of Minnesota)
Clark, Alex (Nursing)
Pritchard, Zinia (Medicine and Dentistry)
Department of Educational Psychology
Counselling Psychology
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Some psychotherapists consistently achieve superior outcomes with their clients. That is, who you see for psychotherapy matters. Indeed, there is strong empirical evidence that some therapists are consistently more effective with their clients. Such therapists are variously referred to by researchers as “Supershrinks”, “Master Therapists” or “Highly Effective Therapists”. There is also evidence that these therapists may be more effective because of certain characteristics. Yet relatively few researchers have examined these characteristics directly. The main purpose of this study was to broaden what is known about the characteristics of Highly Effective Therapists. For this dissertation, I utilized a naturalistic qualitative research methodology to identify characteristics commonly associated with therapists perceived as being highly effective. Currently practicing registered psychologists were asked to nominate between one and three therapists they believe consistently produce excellent client outcomes. They were also asked to describe some of the characteristics they associate with the individual(s) they nominated. Utilizing convenience and snowball sampling, data was gathered from currently practicing psychologists using a brief questionnaire with one key open ended question. A total of 98 practicing psychologists practicing in Alberta, Canada completed the questionnaire. This resulted in 248 total nominations with accompanying descriptions of the nominee. The quality of the findings in this study were enhanced through the use of triangulation whereby multiple sources of data were accessed to examine Highly Effective Therapists. Perceptions about nominated therapists were sought by interviewing current clients of the two therapists most frequently nominated by other therapists as being highly effective. A total of 6 clients participated in interviews. They were each asked to describe their therapist. Themes arising from nominating therapists and clients were compared with the existing literature. Grounded in a critical/complex realist epistemology/ontology, the data from nominating therapists and nominated therapist’s clients was subsequently analyzed using a Thematic Analysis approach, as outlined in Braun and Clarke (2006). Themes arising from the therapist data suggest that practicing psychotherapists believe Highly Effective Therapists are Knowing, Warm, Professional, Interpersonal, and Open. To a lesser extent, such individuals are also broadly viewed as being Respected. Clients of nominated therapists generally corroborated the descriptions given by nominating therapists, suggesting that there is notable overlap between the perceptions of nominating therapists and actual clients. One major difference relates to the emphasis clients placed on Knowing and Professionalism. Nominating therapists believed Knowing, and Warmth to be very important elements of Highly Effective Therapists, while clients of such nominated individuals emphasized being Warm and Professional over Knowing. Themes arising from therapist and client data were also noted to appear sporadically in the existing research literature.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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