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What Makes a Therapist a Good Therapist?

Updated: Nov 7



In the previous post, we identified 13 warning signs of toxic therapy designed to help you know when a therapist is displaying harmful behavior in your counseling sessions. In today’s post, we will discuss what makes a therapist a good therapist and how to define a healthily counseling relationship. Many of my clients seek counseling after having been in therapy for years and suffering without experiencing significant symptom relief and without lasting healing after multiple therapists have failed. After a few sessions with me, they say, “I’ve felt a freedom here that I never experienced in three years of counseling with my other therapists after just three sessions with you! How do you do that?” My response is simple: “I’m not trying to fix you.” So what makes a therapist a good therapist? A good therapist has gained innate wisdom from the pains of their own life that can be gained in no other way, but there is more to it than that. To fully answer this question, I need to clarify the purpose of therapy. A therapeutic relationship cannot be purely a method, a technique, a regimen, or something done to us. Something must happen through us. As we discussed in this post, “Are You Trying to Fix Yourself?,” you do not need to be fixed. You are not a problem to solve or a project; you are a person. The purpose of therapy is to help you, not fix you. A good therapist does not simply discuss our thinking patterns, because therapy is not a head-to-head relationship or simply an intellectual conversation where the client does all the talking and the therapist does all the listening. Therapy is also not about giving advice. Therapy requires a working relationship of mutual engagement between the client and the counselor.

A good therapist does not rely on knowledge alone, because awareness and understanding in and of itself is from the head, which will not heal the deep pain in our hearts.

It is not an intellectual knowing that brings transformation; healing comes from experiential, intimate knowing. Head knowledge can never be a substitute for relationship. I invite my clients into a relationship, which is the foundation for successful therapy. This is how lasting healing occurs.

What Does the Counseling Process Entail?

It is important to recognize at the beginning of your counseling process, you might feel afraid, uncomfortable, and unsure. You may falsely believe the changes you are making in your life are not good just because they do not feel good. Bringing awareness to your unhealthy relationships, toxic thinking patterns, and self-sabotaging behaviors exposes underlying wounds, trauma, and painful emotions you have buried for years.

When you start healing intensely, you will feel intensely.

Having a safe person sit with you in your pain can help put words to what you have been experiencing, so you no longer feel alone and confused. Just remember, once you begin to do the work, you might feel worse before you feel better.


I experience this with my clients and remind them that feeling worse and uncomfortable means they are making progress. That is something to celebrate because healing is taking place and they are slowly becoming free and unstuck as they allow their hidden issues to come to the light so they can be dealt with. My clients understand there is no magic wand. A counselor is not a magician. People are often too afraid to look at their pain because they do not know how to deal with it. So many people do not understand their own suffering. They want their counselor to fix them or fix their relationship, and they get frustrated when they realize healing and transformation is an internal process that takes time and hard work.

It Will Be Hard, but It Will Be the Right Kind of Hard


Counseling is a safe place to continue to work through the healing process and to feel your feelings, confront your fears, and face the deepest truths of your lives so you can be healed. This requires you commit to doing the necessary psychological and relational work with a therapist to co-create a strategy for change and lasting transformation. An expected part of the counseling process is the tendency to want to revert to old patterns of relating. “This is too hard. I’d rather just go back to the ways things were.” This is a normal response once my clients reach a particular point in their therapy, As you embark on the journey to freedom in your counseling work, it can be intense because you are learning to deal with deep-seated hurt. It can feel scary at times, especially as you begin to uncover the lies you believe about others and yourself and no longer avoid your painful emotions. As a therapist, I invite my clients to experience the truth of who they are underneath their coping mechanisms, excuses, and defenses.

Therapy shows us how facing what we avoid can heal us.

Many clients leave counseling because they become too afraid. Often they resume their sessions when their suffering has overtaken them completely or they are in a state of crisis. Fear of being overwhelmed, of not getting better, or fear of losing the relationship with a person, whom they love, is normal and to be expected.


Typically, it is easier to go back to what is familiar and comfortable, even though it is unhealthy, rather than facing the fear of the unknown and the underlying pain that has been buried for so long. It takes courage and endurance, with the help of a therapist, to embrace the healing process. By choosing to face what you have been avoiding or hiding from, you choose to heal.


Once my clients stay the course of their treatment, they no longer feel overwhelmed, depressed, stuck, or anxiously trying to fix themselves. Freedom becomes their reality. They begin to experience healing, accept themselves, transform their pain into purpose, and create a better life.


Next week, we will dive deeper into the purpose of therapy and how healing happens in relationships because the wounds that occurred in a relationship must be healed in a relationship.


**The content for this blog post has been taken from chapter 9 (Cuckoo Counsel, Who Hurts You and Who Can Help You) of Andrea’s book, The Cuckoo Syndrome: The Secret to Breaking Free from Unhealthy Relationships, Toxic Thinking, and Self-Sabotaging Behavior


The photo accompanying this article was sourced from Shutterstock and is in the public domain.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrea Anderson Polk is a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified, registered clinical supervisor, and certified professional coach. She has a private practice in Northern Virginia with well over a decade of clinical experience helping hundreds of clients on their healing journey.


She is driven by a deep commitment to uncovering hidden psychological, relational, and spiritual truths that are keeping people stuck so they can be free.

Her book, The Cuckoo Syndrome, is a provocative approach to understanding the human heart and relationships by weaving together her story and those of her clients with science, scripture, and psychology.

Andrea is here to help ambitious women of faith experience healing and breakthrough so they can live each day with peace and purpose. She believes healing happens through relationships. The wounds that occurred in a relationship must be healed in a relationship. Andrea invites you into a life-altering relationship.
Find out more about her services and work with Andrea one-one- by contacting her here.

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Andrea has spent her career studying the human experience and has developed a fascinating analogy that compares cuckoo birds, nature’s master manipulator and imposter, to situations and relationships that leave us feeling drained, confused, lost, and empty. Her new book, The Cuckoo Syndrome, helps us fend off the cuckoos, the unhealthy relationships, toxic thinking, and self-sabotaging behaviors in our life that never truly satisfy the deep longings of our souls and the desires of our hearts. 

Andrea’s clinically proven, innovative method helps us recover the lost pieces of ourselves, discover meaning in suffering, and transform our pain into purpose by teaching us to uncover the truth of who we are and who God is so we can be healed and live free. 

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Are you or someone you know suffering from The Cuckoo Syndrome? Take the free quiz to help you identify whether you are hosting The Relationship Cuckoo, The Self-Inflicted Cuckoo, or The Combination Cuckoo.