Characteristics of Master Therapists

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The Cognitive, Emotional, and Relational Characteristics of Master Therapists: A Journal


Jennings, L., & Skovholt, T.M. (1999). The cognitive, emotional, and relational characteristics of master therapists. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 46(1), 3-11. In a qualitative research study, Jennings and Skovholt sought to determine what characteristics, if any, comprise a master therapist. The study consisted of 10 peer-nominated master therapists, each therapist being nominated as a master therapist by a minimum of four peers within a major city. These nominations determined the participants of the study. Though the therapists ranged in theoretical orientation, education level, and years of experience, all of the therapists worked full-time in private practice. Through a series of recorded interviews that were analyzed and studied for specific themes and patterns, analysis produced a set of nine characteristics found in master therapists. These results were then organized under the three domains of cognitive, emotional, and relational characteristics, representing quality areas that were consistently indicative of master therapists. The cognitive domain suggests that master therapists are voracious learners who draw extensively from accumulated experience and value cognitive complexity. Beneath the emotional domain, master therapists are described as emotionally receptive, non-defensive, mentally healthy, and able to attend to their own emotional well-being. They are aware of how their personal emotional health affects their work quality. The third domain embodies the relational characteristics, describing master therapists as those who have strong relationship skills and are experts at applying those abilities in therapy. These master therapists believe that the foundation for restorative change can be found in a dedicated therapeutic relationship. Findings suggest that researchers studying therapist expertise may want to explore emotional and...
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