What Defines a ‘Good’ Psychologist?

If you are seeking assistance from a psychologist, it is important to select someone whom is likely to be effective. The American Psychological Association (APA) has released a document indicating the top characteristics of an effective psychologist. Strategic Psychology is a private practice in Canberra City that employs and assists in the development of psychologists who embody these qualities. The following factors are those considered by the APA to be important for psychologists to be effective. It is important clients consider these during the early stages of treatment.

1. Good interpersonal communication skills

Psychologists spend a great deal of time reflecting back their own impressions and understanding of a client’s experiences, as well as teaching clients new strategies and ways of thinking about problems. They also write reports and feedback letters to other professionals. Therefore, it is very important for a psychologist to be able to communicate in a clear and effective way, both verbally and in writing.

2. Trustworthiness

In order to be effective, psychologists need to obtain very personal, detailed and sensitive information from clients. If they do not have a full understand of a client’s background, context and patterns of thinking and behaviour, there is only so much they can assist with. Therefore, it is important that a psychologist conveys an impression of trustworthiness, so that the client feels at ease to open up and share important information for the psychologist to formulate their case, as well as the intervention process.

3. Willingness to establish an alliance with the client

Psychologists are working in collaboration with clients. Though their level of training places them in a superior position in the context of a therapy session, they cannot be effective unless they work as part of an alliance with their client. This involves regularly checking in with the client regarding their understanding and opinion of a particular concept or strategy, as well as asking for their ideas regarding what will and will not be helpful for their present situation.

4. Provides accurate and up to date case formulation

Psychologists tailor treatment to each individual client through developing a ‘case formulation’, which synthesises: current problems; factors that may have predisposed the client to these problems; events that may have triggered or exacerbated the problems; behaviours, environmental factors and beliefs that may prevent the client from improving; and aspects of the client’s personality and situation that may contribute positively to their progress. It is important for psychologists to share their impressions with clients in order to gain feedback on accuracy and empower the client through knowledge of the factors contributing to their problems.

5. Has a consistent and acceptable treatment plan

Once a case formulation has been developed, it is important for psychologists to select a treatment style and plan that has been shown to be effective when working with clients who have similar concerns. A treatment plan involves overarching goals and a clear rationale regarding the methods that will be used to achieve these. Different psychologists will have different approaches to treating the same problem; therefore the most important factor is that the psychologist has a clear rationale for using it.

6. Believes in the treatment method they are using

As mentioned above, psychologists all have different approaches to treating the same problem. This depends on the training they were given, the professional development events they have attended, and their own personal preferences. This does not mean that one particular method will be ‘better’ than another – what is most important is how confident the psychologist is in using the therapy style, and how much it resonates with their personal beliefs and style. A psychologist who is delivering therapy in a hesitant or reluctant way is much less likely to be effective.

7. Regularly checking client progress

It is important for psychologists to regularly check in with the client regarding their daily functioning and emotional state. This should be done through a combination of more objective measures (e.g. self-report scales), gathering information about the client’s activities, and simply asking the client how they are going. They need to gain evidence that their treatment is benefiting the client in order to make decisions about how to use future sessions.

8. Adapts to client characteristics

Psychologists need to adapt treatment to suit the beliefs, capabilities, context and problems each individual client faces.

9. Inspires hope and optimism in the client

In order for change to occur, the client must believe that they are capable of it. Often clients come to therapy with low expectations about their ability to change, or intend to rely completely on the therapist to ‘fix’ them. It is important for psychologists to highlight the characteristics of the client that will enable them to make positive changes during therapy and beyond. After all, it is the client who must do most of the hard work in therapy!

10. Sensitivity to different cultural backgrounds

Every psychologist will be influenced by his or her own cultural upbringing in terms of their values and expectations in different aspects of life. Additionally, many therapy protocols have been influenced by the values and methods of reasoning that are most prevalent in the culture in which they were developed. It is important that psychologists are mindful of these facts in order to avoid projecting values and expectations onto clients from different cultural backgrounds, who may not share them.

11. Self-awareness

Similar to cultural sensitivity, it is important for clients to be aware of what may trigger unhelpful responses within therapy sessions. Psychologists should not be discussing their own personal issues with clients, and they cannot be affected by their own experiences when treating clients in a way that interferes with therapy. Self-awareness is a very helpful skill to have in order for psychologists to achieve objectivity and client-centred practice.

12. Uses evidence-based practice

Psychologists should be using therapy protocols that have been demonstrated as effective with clients who have similar problems. They should be able to provide a strong rationale for their approach, as well as evidence that this approach has previously been effective with a significant number of previous clients.

13. Is continually involved in regular professional development

It is a legal and ethical requirement for all accredited psychologists to engage in a certain number of professional development activities every year in order to keep their skills up to date with the latest research. If your psychologist holds current registration with AHPRA, they should be engaging in these activities regularly.

Finding assistance

If you live in the Canberra region and feel that you may benefit from seeing a psychologist, you can contact Strategic Psychology to arrange to see someone. We can assist you in identifying the issues that are causing and maintaining your difficulties and recommend strategies that draw on your strengths and passions in order to achieve optimal social, emotional and academic functioning.

No referral is required in order to see one of our psychologists, however, you can contact your GP for a referral under Medicare (if eligible) to receive a rebate on services provided.


Wampold, B. E. (2015). Qualities and actions of an effective therapist. American Psychology Association. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/education/ce/effective-therapists.pdf

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