Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Heidi Levitt

Second Advisor

Sarah Hayes-Skelton

Third Advisor

Boaz Levy


There is increasing empirical evidence that psychotherapy is very effective when therapists tailor interventions in ways that fit their clients’ difficulties and needs (Kramer, 2009; Snyder & Silberschatz, 2017), a concept that has been named “therapist responsiveness” in the psychotherapy literature (Bacal, 1985; Stiles, Honos-Webb, & Surko, 1998). However, the question of how therapists learn to be responsive rarely has been addressed in research (Hatcher, 2015). The central question of this study was, “How did you learn how to be responsive to clients as a novice therapist, and in what ways are you responsive?” Eleven graduate student therapist trainees were recruited. Phone interviews were conducted in a semi-structured style to ask novice therapists from clinical and counseling psychology Masters-level and doctoral programs to describe their experiences. A grounded-theory approach was used to create themes from the qualitative data. The analysis showed that trainees learned to improve their responsiveness to clients by: (1) becoming more aware of cues related to psychotherapy processes, in client-therapist dynamics, and clients’ identities and contexts; (2) managing their own emotions and engaging in self-care; and (3) adopting mindsets that facilitated trying new relational or therapy approaches while also considering professional boundaries. The implications of these findings to help training programs improve teaching about responsiveness and optimize supports for trainees’ providing responsive treatment were discussed.