What attributes does a great therapist possess?
We have a vague idea of how to evaluate doctors because we spent our lives going to pediatricians and specialists. We know what questions to ask to assess their standard of care: do they listen to us? Do they give us medicine that gets us better? Did they go to a good school? Do they have good reviews from friends or work at a reputable hospital?
One of the reasons therapy can be scary is that it's a completely new experience. We don't have similar knowledge or experience with which we can evaluate therapists. And finding a great therapist is so important because you make 10x faster progress with a top therapist than an average one.
This is why on Kip, we evaluate therapists for you. Here is our vetting process:
We look for these characteristics
The best therapists are not just trained and certified, but curious, creative, and empathetic. They make you feel comfortable. They're astute observers who quickly connect the dots between your life, goals, and values. We interviewed hundreds of therapists and clients until we saw patterns in the good ones. We identified 8 traits that excellent therapists share:
- Warmth to create a safe, welcoming space
- Empathy to build understanding and trust
- Curiosity to push conversations further
- Incredible listening skills
- Cleverness to come up with personalized treatments
- An engineer-like drive to come up with solutions
- They value the scientific, data-driven process
Ask yourself these questions to evaluate for the characteristics above:
- Do I feel comfortable? (Warmth)
- Do I feel heard and understood? (Empathy/listening skills)
- Was I surprised by something I learned about myself? (Curiosity)
- Was the therapist quick to make connections about patterns/concerns in your life? (Clever)
- Did they practice evidence-based therapy? (Scientific)
- Did they ask me to fill out a standard measure or form to evaluate my current state? (Data-driven)
We ask these questions
Can they explain psychological concepts clearly?
The most important question we ask therapists in a Kip interview is, “How would you explain anxiety to someone who comes in with telltale symptoms?”
A good answer is clear and concise. A 5-year old should be able to understand the answer. The answer should also be relatable, using metaphors or expressing how symptoms may feel. The best therapists will tailor the question to you. Did you mention that your palms get sweaty or that your heart races? Did you mention that you are curious about the science of the brain? They'll incorporate relevant details in their explanation.
A bad example includes references to psychological theories, therapy lingo, and leaves you asking: “WTF does that mean?”
Experts are experts because they can answer questions clearly and frame them in ways people understand. It’s a sign of domain expertise and also empathy and awareness to meet you where you are.
Do they track or measure results?
Studies show that therapists who measure progress see better outcomes for their clients. It's a best practice to empirically measure therapy progress yet only 11% of therapists do. 
100% of Kip therapists measure progress in therapy and use data to provide more personalized, effective care.
To do this, therapists use something called a 'measure' such as the PHQ-9, DASS-21, or GAD-7. These are simple questionnaires that ask about symptom severity and rate your levels of stress, anxiety, and depression over time. If you've taken a survey about your mental health at a primary care office, you were probably given either the PHQ-9 (depression) or GAD-7 (anxiety).
Do they ask clients to do anything between sessions?
Does your therapist ask you to jot down thoughts, fill out a worksheet, or practice some skill or behavior between sessions? Do they assign what's sometimes called 'homework'? Do they want you to do work outside of talking to them once a week?
The best therapists recognize that they'll provide better care if they know more about you, which is why they ask you to share information with them about what happens throughout your week. They'll ask you to track things between sessions, such as mood, thoughts, or events that trigger a certain emotional response in you. They'll ask you to take notes throughout the week and share this information with them through Kip.
Effective therapy leads to change outside of the office. As you build out a treatment plan, the best therapists ask you to practice skills that you learn inside of session, much like you would practice the guitar every day between lessons with a guitar teacher. An hour once a week doesn't lead to change as effectively as an hour plus deliberate practice of the skills you learn in session.
Do they believe therapy should end?
The best therapists see therapy as a tool, not a crutch. You should gain lifelong skills from your therapy experience and build a set of tools that you can use to manage life experiences, anxiety, and stress for the rest of your life. You should see discernible progress over time. Many therapists on Kip start by seeing you once a week but eventually taper off to once every two weeks, once a month, and then once and a while for a booster session.
If you choose to go to therapy regularly or even every week for extended periods of time, that's a fantastic investment to make but it should be a choice. There are some exceptions, of course, for instance, if you are managing a chronic mental health condition.
Disclaimer: One therapy session may not be enough to learn everything above, but you should be able to capture a good sense. The first session involves a lot of you talking about your life, your past history, and your goals in therapy. It may take a little while to get to know your therapist, but always trust your gut in knowing what works for you.