Do You Know Which Of The Following Is Not A Characteristic Of Effective Counseling?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated March 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Looking for a counselor can be challenging, understanding effective and ineffective counseling characteristics can be a good place to start. Effective counseling can be considered counseling that proactively addresses your challenges and improves your mental well-being. Counseling can assist you during challenging times in your life, support you with a mental illness, or help you learn new skills. Talking about your concerns with an experienced professional counselor may encourage you to gain a new perspective or learn therapeutic techniques to help you cope with recurring symptoms.  

On the other hand, ineffective counseling may have adverse effects, potentially exacerbating existing concerns and complicating treatment. Below are typical markers of effective counseling and characteristics of ineffective counseling to consider when meeting with a provider.

You deserve comprehensive, empathetic mental health care

Identifying characteristics of effective counseling

Below are several common factors that may be present when you participate in therapy. Some may be effective counseling characteristics, and others may be ineffective, depending on their impacts on clients. 

Using proven methods (yes)

Effective counseling often relies on using proven, science-backed therapeutic modalities and techniques. Once your therapist has outlined your treatment plan, consider researching their methods. Your counselor should be able to adequately explain the treatment and answer any questions or address concerns you have about the treatment and how it works, providing further education as needed. 

For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a theoretical orientation that therapists use to treat various challenges, from anxiety and depression to relationship issues. CBT is a short-term therapy that's often goal focused, aiming to help individuals change potentially negative thoughts and behaviors. When you practice CBT, you're receiving a treatment that has been extensively studied and is widely accepted within the US as an effective counseling process.  

Other popular and widely-used therapy modalities may include:

  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Relationship counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Gestalt therapy

In counseling, agree on a framework for treatment with your therapist to move forward with goals in mind for treatment. If you discover that one method is not functioning, let your provider know so that changes may be made. 

Providing an "easy fix" (no)

Some clients may approach counseling believing that the therapist will implement solutions on their behalf. However, that's not often the goal of therapy. Instead, the therapist's objective may be to guide and support clients in addressing their challenges and becoming more self-aware through research-backed methods. Doing so can empower clients, boost their self-esteem, and give them the confidence to continue improving their mental health and make positive changes. 

If a therapist acts on your behalf or gives strict instructions for accomplishing your objectives, they may negatively affect your self-confidence and limit your growth. A counselor's job may be helping without taking power from the client. Successful therapy often empowers individuals to help themselves through developing a sense of their own values and beliefs. An approach that many counselors utilize to help clients reach their own goals is unconditional positive regard, which psychologist Carl Rogers developed. This strategy promotes self-awareness and allows clients to accept their thoughts and behaviors.

Establishing trust (yes)

Effective counseling is often built on a solid therapeutic alliance involving the relationship between the counselor and the client. Personal characteristics vary from person to person and it is important to find a therapist that you trust before moving forward. 

Often, goal consensus between the patient and counselor, meaning both sides work toward the same objectives, is key to the therapeutic relationship. Try to be open and honest with your counselor, even if that means telling them that you're uncomfortable discussing a specific topic. A solid relationship with your counselor takes time but might be the foundation for successful treatment. 

Leading to a close personal relationship (no)

At times, people who pursue therapy may feel a close bond with their therapist. While this can be beneficial to the process of growing a solid therapeutic alliance, it may also lead to an inappropriate relationship that doesn't align with the American Psychological Association's ethical practice guidelines.

Counselors are legally required to keep the relationship with their clients professional. If your counselor tries to interact with you unprofessionally, they may jeopardize your ability to benefit from therapy. There are rules against dual or multiple relationships between counselors and clients. If your therapist attempts to meet in person outside of sessions or interacts with you outside the bounds of a therapeutic relationship, report them to the state board.  

Facilitating change (yes)

At times, you may feel unsure of the next steps to take in your treatment. If you're having trouble moving forward, counseling may help you consider a new light and develop an optimistic outlook. Good counselors can encourage you by illuminating your positive qualities, pointing out potential growth areas, and helping you develop goals based on personal values. 

Therapists can offer tips for addressing symptoms of a mental health condition and understanding their sources. Effective counseling often facilitates therapeutic change by helping you identify areas of concern and giving you the tools to address them.

Providing empathy (yes)

Effective counseling can involve understanding, validation, and engagement. A healthy counselor may make you feel heard and stay present with you as you undergo therapy. If you meet with a counselor who does not engage with your concerns, passes judgment, or otherwise displays a lack of regard for your feelings, it might benefit you to look for a new provider. Effective counselors can generally put themselves in their client's shoes and suspend judgment to better understand a client’s feelings, even if they've never been in the same situation. 

In a multicultural society, counseling today necessitates that therapists be culturally informed and trauma-informed in their approach. Understanding how an individual's cultural background may affect their treatment can help therapists provide empathetic care. Counselors can achieve this through continuing education and other types of consciousness-raising training. A counselor's ability to navigate cultural barriers may significantly impact the quality of services their clients receive.

Focusing on blame (no)

If a counselor places blame on others regarding your mental wellness, they may affect your perception of your ability to address your concerns. While it can be beneficial for a therapist to help you identify potential sources for your concerns, excessive blaming could be harmful. A therapist's goal may be to give you the power to change instead of looking outside yourself. Since you can't control what other people do, you might work to feel aware of your feelings and focus on what you can change. 

Providing flexibility (yes)

Everyone may be unique, and treatment can also be. A healthy counselor may be accommodating if you seek to attend therapy at your own pace. Counselors can also be agile enough to move on when their first line of treatment isn't working. 

A good counselor is willing to shift as circumstances change and they learn more about their clients. For example, a conversation may be necessary if a client starts to resist treatment or feels disrespected. Effective counselors are often flexible and find solutions that help provide the best opportunity for success. Many clients may understand that a change in treatment plan could be necessary.

Treatments like CBT are often short, but they may need to be altered or extended in certain circumstances. It can take time to improve a client's mental and emotional well-being. The client and counselor may be willing to make changes to ensure positive outcomes. Effective counselors often acknowledge that there is no one way to treat mental health-related challenges.

You deserve comprehensive, empathetic mental health care

Counseling options 

Looking for an effective counselor for your needs can be time-consuming and stressful for some. If you relate, you may be able to utilize remote counseling through an internet-based platform like BetterHelp.

An increasing number of studies point to online therapy as a beneficial form of mental healthcare for those seeking treatment. In a wide-ranging review of over 90 studies, with nearly 10,000 total participants, researchers concluded that online therapy could be an effective treatment method for a broad array of mental health-related concerns. The review found that online therapy can help individuals alleviate symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression and accomplish specific goals.  

If you're seeking comprehensive, effective mental health care, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist through an online platform. With online therapy, you can participate in counseling remotely through video, voice, or in-app messaging. You'll also have the option of reaching out to your mental health professional outside of sessions. Many platforms offer thousands of therapists so you can find the most effective choice for you. 


Effective counseling can facilitate significant positive change in your life. However, there are a few warning signs of ineffective counseling to be aware of. If you'd like to explore the benefits of therapy, consider connecting with a licensed therapist. You can address mental health concerns and find support and compassionate guidance. 

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