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What Makes a Good Counselor

One in four people will be affected by mental health issues at some point in their lives, according to the World Health Organization. Even if half of those afflicted people choose to see a counselor, there is a great demand of skilled professionals capable of providing therapy as their patients navigate issues like depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. 

Paul Jones, licensed psychologist and director of SNU’s Graduate Programs in Counseling, provided some insight on the topic below.

I find the topic of “what qualities does it take to be an effective counselor” to be very interesting. If I were to provide an exhaustive list of virtues (traits that assist a counselor in successfully navigating the practice of counseling), it would probably be very long. However, if I were to give you a Top 10 (strictly my opinion), this would be the list:

10. Sense of humor

I think good therapists are able to keep things in perspective and don’t take themselves or life too seriously. Sure, they need to be able to sit with pain and hurt, but those therapists that forget how to laugh and enjoy life are doomed to become burned out by the profession.

9. Intellect

I hate to say it, but no one wants a dumb counselor. Counselors need to be smart. Really smart. They need to be educated, they need to have a wide understanding of many things, and they need to be able to draw connections between those things for the sake of a client.

8. Humility/Open-mindedness

Good therapists are willing to see things and understand things from a multitude of perspectives and are humble enough to know that they not only don’t have all of the answers, but also that simple answers may not exist.

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7. Responsibility

Counselors that are late, procrastinate, forget things, are disorganized, forget their ethical mandates, ignore legal responsibilities, and are generally not on top of their own responsibilities will not make it in the field for long. Clients and other professionals will not (and should not) tolerate that.

6. Authenticity

A good therapist is a person who is honest, not only with others, but also with themselves. I believe that being real is necessary when we are trying to help out clients be real with themselves and others.

5. Empathy

If you don’t care, you can’t make a difference. Compassion is more than wanting to help; it begins with a real, deep emotional connection to the pain and struggles of others. If you can’t connect with your own pain, you won’t feel that pain for others, and then you won’t be motivated to bring about real change.

4. Insight/Self-Awareness

True ability to understand and relate to others begins with understanding one’s self. Knowing who you are, where you came from, why you do what you do, why you feel what you feel, why you think what you think are all of the major tools to truly understand someone else.

3. Imagination

Good counselors are not people who just follow a script or a manual. You have to be able to imagine things differently and improvise. You have to be able to spontaneously rise to a situation and offer something that synthesizes a number of ideas and offers something completely new or different.

2. Curiosity

I debated placing this #1. I believe a deep-seated desire to question everything and seek the truth amongst what is hidden is one of the most defining traits of a really great therapist.

1. Courage

I believe that courage is the beginning of all virtue, and that is just as true for counselors as it is for anything. Counselors have to be willing to patiently sit with and traverse the heartache of others, while also sitting with their own painful memories and emotions. All counselors get scared, but can the therapist calmly stay present amidst that fear? That is what separates the absolutely great therapists.

If you’re interested in preparing for a fulfilling career as a counselor, consider applying to SNU using our five-minute application. You’ll undergo in-depth coursework on how to create transformative change in the world around you!

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