What do the masters of truly good therapy have in common? According to couples therapist Bill Doherty, they know how to balance their desire to guide therapy with their ability to empathically listen. It’s this quality, he adds, which drives home the truth about therapy. At its heart, this work isn’t a science. It’s a craft.

Here, Doherty explains why therapists are more like keen mechanics than scientists.

“A craft has a useful outcome,” Doherty says. “Our craft, our conversations, are about repair, not just repartee. Our conversation is for people who are in pain, and who want to function better in their lives.”

Is there a demand for this craft? Absolutely, Doherty says. There’s a growing hunger for authentic ways to live and connect, he explains. “The therapy stars of the future will be those who so successfully address the needs and engagement styles of the culture that they’ll open up opportunities for the rest of us to prosper.”

William Doherty

William Doherty, PhD, is professor of family social science and director of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project at the University of Minnesota. He’s the author of the forthcoming book, The Ethical Lives of Clients: Transcending Self-Interest in Psychotherapy