A bad psychologist

Recently I was at a barbecue party of my son’s football club. There were all kinds of people there and sometimes the question arises what kind of work you do. I usually answer this vaguely to avoid comments such as “oh then you will see right through me” and “aren’t you taking all those stories home with you?” Sometimes I do answer because at that moment it seems okay to tell something about my work. So also it was at the mentioned party and indeed the question arose as to how I avoid taking home everything that is discussed in the room. I made an attempt to explain something about this, and it boiled down to the idea that as a psychologist (in my opinion) it is important to listen to the way someone tells the story instead of remembering the details in all sessions. The response that followed was: “But then you are a very bad psychologist, right?!” …

What is a good psychologist?

There were two things interesting about this comment: 1: the reaction it evoked in me and 2: the question: what is a “good” psychologist anyway? and then what is “bad”? I thought it was fun (and afterwards inspiring!) To put these questions to my colleagues.
To answer the first interesting phenomenon that the comment about the bad psychologist evoked in me: so many emotional, cognitive and physical processes are activated in the above comment that this is difficult to grasp in a blog. What can be understood is that this is exactly what my response to the concerning lady was about, I thought that was interesting to see.
I thought this was a theme to be broadened and I was curious as to what my colleagues think about this. These are a few answers to the question what are the characteristics of a good psychologist:
  • A good psychologist is someone who can put his / her own judgment on hold, can remain curious and has the intention to understand what is happening in the client’s inner world. If this fails, the therapist should reflect on himself to investigate.
  • The therapist places the responsibility for the process with the client and allows people to come up with a solution for themselves while given permission to confront them. An important attribute here is to constantly confirm the agreement to this consent.
  • A good psychologist has neither too much nor too little sympathy and empathy. He or she must ensure that he or she can continue to reflect, think and reciprocate. Even with negative countertransference it is important to maintain sympathy.
  • A good therapist is someone who takes their job seriously (understanding what is wrong with someone and properly help someone discover how to deal with it themselves). That a therapist always has to be empathetic is nonsense. In fact, the therapist should be critical of this task (am I still doing the right thing? What is going on in the room in regards to projections, involvement of both parties, transfer, etc.).

And what, according to the panel, is a bad psychologist?

One says it is out of the question to take responsibility for the client’s process and make yourself responsible for it. With this, the client learns that if he / she does not work out something, someone else will solve it. According to another colleague, a bad psychologist is someone who just acts randomly, treats only by feeling without any theoretical framework (the casual amateur psychologist).
One common consensus is that the division of roles in the therapy must be clear, it must be clear who owns the therapy and who “leads” the therapy and is taking a critical look at the process. It is important to consider the expectations of the therapy for both the client and the therapist.
To come back to the question of what is a good and what a bad therapist, this is not a question that can be answered in a short text and is definitely a big grey area. My colleagues and I do agree that this is in any case not a subject that is discussed during the study psychology, but something you mainly learn in practice (with luck you will find a good experienced psychotherapist who has a clear idea about this and can teach you something about this, and probably have an opinion about this article on a complicated topic …)
In a professional sense, there are clear expectations and frameworks for therapy. What seems especially important is to have a clear definition by both client and therapist and that both parties should take responsibility for it in order to enter into a partnership. Responsibility covers several layers, both on a content and process level. After all, therapy is about examining the client’s inner world with all the feelings, thoughts and physical sensations that go with it, with the aim of learning to understand themselves better. It would be striking if we as therapists did not take the responsibility of doing this ourselves.
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