The professional and personal characteristics of effective psychotherapists: a systematic review

Erkki Heinonen, Helene A. Nissen-Lie

Research output: Contribution to journalReview Articlepeer-review

Abstract

Objective: Psychotherapists differ notably in the outcomes their patients achieve, and the characteristics that may explain these differences have attracted increasing interest. We systematically review studies on therapist pre-treatment characteristics predicting patient outcomes. Method: Systematic searches on databases for psychotherapy research, clinical psychology, and medical science for the years 2000-2018 identified published research examining therapist characteristics and psychotherapy outcomes. Of 2041 studies, 31 met inclusion criteria. Results: Findings show a few direct effects of therapist intrapersonal variables (e.g., self-relatedness, attachment) and several interaction effects with other constructs (e.g., patient pathology) on outcome. There is little support for the relevance of self-rated social skills. However, more consistent evidence has recently emerged for performance-based measurements of professional interpersonal skills, especially when elicited in challenging situations. Patient outcomes were also predicted by therapists' self-rated professional characteristics, such as their experienced difficulties in practice, coping mechanisms, and attitudes towards therapeutic work, indicating that therapist self-perception also matters, although not always in the direction expected. Conclusions: More effective therapists seem characterized by professionally cultivated interpersonal capacities, which are likely rooted in their personal lives and attachment history. Research guidelines are proposed for moving this field forward (including larger samples, multilevel modeling, and in-depth qualitative work).
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychotherapy Research
Volume30
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)417-432
Number of pages16
ISSN1050-3307
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2020
MoE publication typeA2 Review article in a scientific journal

Fields of Science

  • therapist characteristics
  • therapist effects
  • outcome
  • systematic review
  • FACILITATIVE INTERPERSONAL SKILLS
  • THERAPIST ATTACHMENT STYLE
  • COUNTERTRANSFERENCE MANAGEMENT
  • PSYCHODYNAMIC PSYCHOTHERAPY
  • EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
  • PATIENT OUTCOMES
  • ALLIANCE
  • PREDICTORS
  • RESPONSIVENESS
  • MINDFULNESS
  • 515 Psychology

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