What Do Psychotherapists Want? New Study Offers Clues

female client with therapistA therapist is only as good as the research available to him or her, but research trends don’t always reflect therapists’ interests. A new study published in Psychotherapy endeavors to learn what sorts of research psychotherapists seek.

What Do Therapists Want to Learn About?

To explore what therapists are most interested in learning about, researchers recruited 82 psychotherapists. The therapists separated into 10 focus groups to discuss research topics related to their practices. The study’s authors used the data from these focus groups to produce a list of 41 survey items. They recruited 1,019 psychotherapist participants to take the survey, allowing participants to rank each survey item in terms of importance to his or her practice.

Though neuroscience research continues to be among the most popular and sensationalized topics in psychotherapy, most respondents were more interested in other research areas. Therapists were most interested in the therapeutic relationship itself. This should come as no surprise, especially in light of research suggesting that the therapeutic relationship is the strongest predictor of success in therapy—more important than client factors, therapist factors, or the specific treatment approach.

Ranking a close second was research into therapist factors that affect the success of therapy, such as professional development, time spent researching the challenges of people in therapy, and the therapist’s interaction style. Therapists reported a strong interest in professional development topics.

Six additional topics also ranked high on the list. Therapists reported that they wanted more research into client factors, mental health stigma and barriers, technology and adjunctive interventions, monitoring client progress, matching clients to the right therapists, and treatment manuals.

The Central Role of the Therapeutic Relationship

Researchers also conducted focus groups to share the results of the research. Focus group participants weren’t surprised by the top-ranked topics of interest, with many reflecting on the importance of the therapist-client relationship in their own practices.

Andrew Archer, LCSW, a GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert contributor who specializes in mindfulness and contemplative approaches to therapy, said the relationship between a therapist and the people he or she works with in therapy is fertile ground for more research.

“The strength of the therapist-client relationship in psychotherapy creates change,” Archer said. “Agreeing with the Tasca et al. (2014) findings, I would like more research around therapeutic relationships and mechanisms of change to prove this point. This concept is integral for new clinicians and students of psychotherapy to understand that the applied theory accounts for roughly 10% of the difference in clients getting better. Social work graduate students I instruct tend to get hung up on ‘What intervention should I use?’ and curricula neglect the importance of a good bedside manner.”

Sharon Glassburn, MA, MFT, who specializes in LGBT and sexual identity issues, highlighted the need to consider the interests of a diverse group of therapists.

“If medicine is a ‘soft science,’ psychology is a squishy one,” Glassburn said. “Therapists’ access to research and ability to consume literature critically varies so broadly, too. This study primarily sampled psychologists, who tend to receive more research-based training. Life after grad school focuses on continuing education and professional journals, but depending on your discipline, it’s really quite easy to surround yourself with information that only confirms your preexisting framework and beliefs. I would have liked to see more representation from community mental health agencies, as in the U.S. their hands are often tied by modalities and procedures related to what insurance will cover, and these issues are indeed a public health concern.”


  1. Evidence-based therapy relationships. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nrepp.samhsa.gov/Norcross.aspx
  2. Miller, S. D. (2015, January 26). What do clinicians want anyway? Retrieved from http://www.scottdmiller.com/behavioral_health/what-do-clinicians-want-anyway/?utm_source=sendinblue&utm_campaign=WHAT_DO_CLINICIANS_WANT&utm_medium=email
  3. Tasca, G. A., Sylvestre, J., Balfour, L., Cyurlia, L., Evans, J., Fortin-Langelier, B., … Wilson, B. (2014). What clinicians want: Findings from a psychotherapy practice network research survey. Psychotherapy.

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  • Leave a Comment
  • doug a

    February 10th, 2015 at 10:50 AM

    It makes me feel really good to know that most of you are always looking for ways to improve the client/therapist relationship. That is the kind of person with whom I am going to feel comfortable working with, not just someone who is more detached from the emotional and relationship building part of the process.

  • Andrew Archer

    February 10th, 2015 at 3:44 PM

    I couldn’t agree more, Doug. Thanks.

  • Sue

    February 11th, 2015 at 3:48 AM

    If I had to take a guess then I would say that it is probably to have patients who practice what they have talked about in session and tried to do those things in their everyday lives outside of their sessions with the therapist.

  • phillip

    February 11th, 2015 at 4:00 PM

    aaah The elusive bedside manner that seems to be missing in so many caregivers these days. But you have to wonder if this is an error on their part or is it just a desire to do the most good int he shortest amount of time. After all so much of the care that we receive today, and I am not talking about therapists only, but from many medical providers, much of what they can be paid for is dictated by insurance execs who have no idea about treatment and care. I think that once this became the norm, this is almost when you can pinpoint that many felt their hands tied and just felt the need to reach a conclusion as quickly as possible about the illness and what course of treatment they should prescribe.

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