What’s the best way to open and close therapy? It’s a question with many answers, but depending on your client, a particular greeting or goodbye has the potential to make or break therapy. “Nobody ever taught me anything in this area,” says therapist Bill Doherty. “But therapy, like surgery, is a craft. Each surgeon doesn’t figure out where to cut on their own.”

In the following video clip from his Networker Symposium Keynote address, Bill shares the lesson he’s come away with, and explains why, without viewing therapy as a “craft,” the effectiveness of our interventions significantly decreases.

The secret to doing good therapy, Bill says, is developing a protocol by trial and error, and then repeating what works. “There are better and worse ways to ask certain questions,” he says. “We are repair conversationalists.” How we make bids for connection, pace ourselves, and most importantly, use language to elicit responses directly impacts therapy outcomes.

“In this era of medical necessity and evidence-based therapies,” Doherty writes in his Networker article, “One Brick at a Time,” “it’s easy to lose sight of the basic truth that psychotherapy is a special form of conversation: we heal not through prescriptions and procedures, but through talking and listening.”


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