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Two Important Elements for Counseling Success

Two of the Most Important Elements for Counseling Success

Written by Kelsie Goller, Clinical Director for KPS

If you are considering counseling or putting the effort into a counseling relationship, you probably want to know:

  • How can I make this successful?

  • Would finding a counselor with a certain license produce the best results…or one with a certain level of experience…or one who is trained in a certain type of therapy?

Fortunately, researchers have looked at this very question, in many different forms, for decades. And we can’t overlook the fact that “extra-therapeutic factors” play a significant role in whether or not therapy will be effective in helping clients achieve the change that they want to see. These extra-therapeutic factors include things like clients’ support system, the environment they live in, their genetics, their personality, and so on.

However, setting that aside, multiple studies show that the most important element in achieving success in therapy is the relationship between the counselor and the client. If you perceive your counselor as warm, empathetic, nonjudgmental, accepting, and genuine, you are much more likely to reach your therapy goals. In fact, this accounts for 30% of the variance in whether or not clients achieved their goals (Lambert & Barley, 2001).

The other most important element in achieving success in reaching your counseling goals is… you! Your regular attendance, your willingness to make changes in your own life, your expectations that counseling will work are a major indicator of whether or not counseling actually will work for you! I sometimes tell people coming into the office, “No one is going to change you against your will!” The growth and healing that you experience is your own journey and your own good work.

Whereas 30% of the variance in whether or not clients achieved their goals is attributed to the relationship between counselor and client, only 15% of the variance in treatment outcomes was attributed to which therapeutic techniques the counselors used (Lambert & Barley, 2001).

BOTTOM LINE: the most important elements for effective therapy are you and your relationship with your counselor. That’s it!

So what if you feel like you and your counselor are not hitting it off well? Before making a quick switch, I would encourage you to ask yourself two questions.

  • First: Is the relationship with my counselor affected by the fact that we bring up painful topics every week? One of the hallmarks of trauma, for example, is avoidance, and it could be that you are avoiding the relationship with your counselor because part of you dreads talking about the hard parts of your past and present during every session.

  • Second: Does my counselor remind me of someone? Counselors are people, too, with their own personalities, mannerisms, and physical appearance. Sometimes, if our counselor reminds us of a different, difficult relationship, we may have trouble connecting with them.

Whether you are having trouble connecting because your counselor reminds you of someone else or because you dread talking about your problems, it is important to bring this up to your counselor, if you feel comfortable doing so! These can create some of the most powerful moments of insight for you in your healing journey, as you advocate for yourself and explore your emotions and relationships. In some cases, your counselor may be able to make some changes that will help you, like working on more coping skills before addressing past trauma, so that you feel better equipped and dread the process less.

However, other times the relationship between you and your counselor just isn’t working, and it is time to advocate for your own mental health journey by choosing a different counselor. No counselor is the best fit for every single client, as there is such diversity amongst people! A true professional will tell you that ultimately they want the best for you so that you can reach your goals, and a true professional will help you find a better counselor fit. In the end, to give therapy the best chance of working for you, you need to find someone whom you work well with, a counselor that you feel you can trust and be vulnerable with on your journey towards greater wellbeing.


Hubble, M. A., Duncan, B. L., & Miller, S. D. (Eds.). (1999). The heart and soul of change: What works in therapy. American Psychological Association.

Michael, Lambert & Barley, Dean. (2001). Research Summary of the Therapeutic Relationship and Psychotherapy Outcome. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 38. 357-361. 10.1037/0033-3204.38.4.357.

Norcross, J. C., & Lambert, M. J. (2018). Psychotherapy relationships that work III. Psychotherapy, 55(4), 303–315.


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