10 Qualities to Look for in an Effective Counsellor

Seeking a counsellor? Here’s what the research says.

In the UK, waiting times for counselling are at best patchy, some areas of the country have short waiting times while others could see clients waiting for up to six months or more. just for an initial assessment.

It is not surprising that some people decide to go privately for help, but where do you start?

A good place to begin is the listing of counsellors on ethical body’s website, from March 2016 for a qualified counsellor to be a member of an ethical body such as the Bacp or UKCP they have to satisfy certain criteria.

This includes;

  • Having appropriate qualifications
  • Having up to date indemnity insurance
  • Abiding by the ethical body code of practice.
  • Attending regular supervision
  • Committing to continual professional development(CPD)

Members who are officially registered will display a logo like this on their website or advertising.

Tameside counselling

There are other things to consider when selecting a counsellor, below are 10 qualities that research indicates makes effective counsellors.

1, Have a highly developed set of interpersonal skills:  Effective counsellors are able to communicate, they are both sensitive and thoughtful in how they respond to questions. They try whenever possible to see the world from your frame of reference. They seek to understand and reflect back empathically your thoughts and feelings.

What this means for you: When speaking with your counsellor about what you are experiencing, are they interested in how you feel? Can they speak to you in a language you understand? Does your therapist talk more about you, or themselves?

2,Ability to help you build a trusting relationship: As far back as the 1950’s DR Carl Rogers identified that for therapy to be effective the clients’ need to be able to believe to a small degree that the counsellor is both empathic and non-judgmental. Clients of effective counsellors believe that if the counsellor displays both an empathic and non-judgmental attitude, that he or she is someone the client can trust

What this means for you: What is your ‘gut feeling’ when you first meet the counsellor? You ask yourself ‘is this someone I can trust and that I can share the most intimate details of my life with’? Ethical guidelines state that in certain cases confidentially may need to be breached, in cases of child protection or serious harm to self, however even with these exceptions can you feel that your trust the counsellor, because you know that the counsellor puts you and those you care about first

3,Willingness to build a therapeutic alliance: One of the strongest predictors of a good therapeutic outcome is the quality of the relationship you have with your counsellor. Research has shown that clients who have a solid and trusting relationship with their counsellor are more likely to benefit from therapy.

What this means for you: Do you get the feeling that your counsellor is on your side? Do you both agree on the path of therapy and the goals you set? Is your counsellor willing to work with you to achieve them?

4, Ability to explain why you feel like you do. In cases of trauma or abuse, clients may behave in ways which are difficult for them to understand or accept. Effective counsellors may be able to offer an explanation of why clients feel or act in certain ways and how the path of counselling may lead to a more positive outlook

What this means for you: That the counsellor normalises your thoughts and feelings given your circumstances, in ways you understand. The explanation does not have to be ‘scientific’ and should connect with your sense of self. You should also feel that the counsellor is flexible should you wish to explore other areas of difficulty in your life.

5, Attention to reviewing the process of therapy: Good counsellors hold regular reviews with their clients so both can get a sense of what is working and what may need to improve. Good counsellors are deeply interested in how their clients are progressing and welcome feedback on what the client needs.

What this means for you: Given that counselling is a process, not an event, it is important that you are given the opportunity to feedback and make sure your needs are communicated and ‘heard’ by the counsellor. It is also an opportunity for you to celebrate any change that has occurred or discuss where you are in the therapy process. This does not mean you have to make progress at every session but demonstrates the counsellor is interested and concerned enough to get your feedback and work with what you need.

6, Continuing professional development (CPD): At the time this article is written,counselling is not a regulated profession, however, effective counsellors who are part of an ethical body such as the BACP or UKCP have to undertake 30 hours a year of ‘professional learning’ also referred to as CPD. Attending CPD courses broadens the counsellors understanding of client’s presenting issues and how new research or interventions may be effective. It also shows a professional commitment to the counsellor’s pride in their work, demonstrating that they want to be the very best they can be in service of their clients.

What this means for you:  It means that your counsellor being serious and diligent in their work, their primary goal is to offer the best possible service to you. It also means that your counsellor will have a better understanding of your difficulties and how you can resolve or come to terms with them.

7, Commitment to ongoing supervision: In the UK counsellors have an ethical and moral obligation to attended regular supervision when working with clients.

The minimum supervision cycle for a qualified counsellor is 1.5 hours a month, it allows the counsellor to meet with an experienced and qualified colleague to discuss client case load, interventions used and to gain insight into the most effective way of supporting clients. It also means that your counsellor is accountable to another professional on monthly basis, for the work they undertake. A supervisor has it in their gift to report any counsellor who is working beyond their competence or is acting unethically.

What this means for you: It shows that your counsellor is willing to share their work with another professional and take direction if necessary. It demonstrates that the person you are sharing your life with is committed to offering you the best possible service and if found to be behaving below the standards of the profession will find themselves accountable.

 8, Expanding self-insight: Counsellors spend a lot of time in training gaining insight into themselves, sometimes this is from self-examination, from the feedback of others and through their own experience of therapy. The reason so much emphasis is placed on personal development during training is so that a counsellor can separate what are their issues from what are the clients. This way counsellor works in the client’s frame of reference not their own. It also shows the commitment the counsellor has for their own emotional well-being and growth.

What this means for you: Does your counsellor speak more about their problems as opposed to listening to yours? Do they refer to any issue you bring from their own personal experience?  Do they dispense advice whether you ask for it or not?If your counsellor lacks self-insight and self-awareness, the therapy session may well be more about them than you. If this is the case, then your counsellor may be lacking in self-insight.

9Sensitivity toward your cultural background: All ethical bodies acknowledge the importance of client’s culture and heritage. A competent counsellor will understand and accept that we live in a multicultural society and that client’s customs and religious holidays need to be respected. It also encompasses that the counsellors own cultural heritage may differ from those of their clients.

What this means for you: It goes without saying that a counsellor should have an awareness of you race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or cultural background. Sometimes even the best-informed counsellor may not understand some of your culture or traditions If this happens, explain why you finds this the case. They will appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

10 ,Having faith in their modality of therapy:  It’s important that the counsellor believes the therapy they practice has the best possibility of helping the clients they work with. If a counsellor believes that your difficulties may be better addressed by a certain form of counselling  and they do not practice it, then they should refer you to someone who does.

What this means for you: That a counsellor will carry out an initial assessment and take a view on whether the model of therapy they practice has the best chance of helping you. it shows that they have taken the time to consider your needs given what you have told them. if at the end of the assessment you would be better with a different modality of counselling you can be sure that the counsellor is acting in the interests of you, not their bank balance.


The outcome of counselling can depend on many factors; however, research has shown that these 10 factors can have a considerable effect on the outcomes of counselling.

It may be that each counsellor may not meet each of these 10 Criteria, however as long as you use them as a guide you can decide if you or a loved one is getting the best possible service.

© Rory Lees-Oakes Dip.Coun – Tameside Counselling.

T: 07425 163870

M: Counsellor@tamesidecounselling.co.uk


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