Perspectives on the Essential Characteristics of Highly Effective Psychotherapists

  • Author / Creator
    Wallace, Kevin S. D.
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Specialization
    • Counselling Psychology
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Hanson, William(Educational Psychology)
    • Clark, Alex (Nursing)
    • Buck, George (Educational Psychology)
    • Pritchard, Zinia (Medicine and Dentistry)
    • Goh, Michael (University of Minnesota)