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Top 10 Characteristics of a Good Consultant

Updated May 3, 2020, to provide an introduction paragraph and hyperlinks to co-authors.


Therapeutic consultants, placement expert or sometimes called interventionists are hired, professionals. They are INDEPENDENT (meaning they are NOT paid by programs)  and they usher a family through an assessment and placement process that could be boarding school, day school, assessment & stabilization program, a treatment program, hybrid Gap Year, transitional young adult living program or college.  This all depends on the consultants’ expertise and your child’s needs  At times the process can feel to a family like it is informal and off the cuff.  It is because a good consultant is like a good surgeon – they deal with complex family systems and diagnosis — all the time.  They can be a swiss army knife in terms of the options, professionals and treatment programs that are available.  A good Therapeutic Consultant predicts the roadblocks that a family will have, creates an alliance with the family and troubled teen or young adult client (where possible).  The following list was presented at a conference in 2015 by a treatment program professional and a Therapeutic Consultant. 

If you are going to hire a therapeutic consultant, ask them questions and lots of them.  If you are still confused about what Therapeutic Consultants do and why they are important, read more about them.


1. Professional knows the pre-teen, teen, or young adult

  • Interested in speaking to professionals in the client’s life — knowing the strengths & weaknesses socially, emotionally, & academically.

  • They know their strengths, interests, hobbies, skill-sets


2. They know the student’s coping skills (or lack thereof) and behavioral patterns

  • This means they want to get beyond the labels and explore and investigate what triggers the behavior and the common consequences of that behavior.


3. Comprehensive understanding of the family system, history, dynamics

  • Enabling, Rescuing, Patterns of Hopelessness, Love, Abuse, Scapegoating, Eager to Learn, Resistant to Change, Avoidant, Confrontational, Reactive, Trusting, Distrusting, etc.

  • Structural dynamics

  • Traditional

  • Adoptive family

  • Blended-family

  • Marital status of parents

  • Extended family support

  • Emotional dynamics

  • Nurturing, Distant, etc.

  • How communication happens in the family system: This is a family that… My experience with dad is… An approach I’ve found helpful with mom is…Parents respond well to this kind of approach…


4. Therapeutic Consultant knows treatment programs

  • They are up-to-date on current program practices

  • They are familiar with key program people

  • They are familiar with both key program details (stages or phases; recognitions; special practices; etc.) and the nuances of the service delivery model.

  • If they are not familiar with the program, they have a network to refer to and trust

  • They are not resistant to call the program and get further facts or information


5. They have a thorough understanding of the treatment process


6. They understand the nuances between programs & models of program & level of care


7. They understand the importance of transition planning

  • Professional plans with treatment providers early and often, and generally before the family comes into the process.


8. Collaborate effectively and communicate often (Teamwork)

  • Available to treatment programs before, during or after an incident.

  • Available to treatment programs for informal or formal updates.

  • Do not dictate treatment, but support & question the treatment.

  • Provide supportive feedback to the treatment program

  • Trust the program is doing well by the client & family.


9. Contract & goals of the contract are direct

  • Dual relationships are spelled out (if any)

  • Time commitment or length of engagement is clear in the contract

  • Goals of the contract are clearly defined

  • Costs are clearly defined


10. Family feels like the consultant ‘gets’ them

  • Relationships can be formed by Skype, Facetime, telephone or in-person, but regardless of how the relationship is formed, the key to success with these types of professional relationships is that the family feels confident in the professional’s credentials, process & goals.


Many of the themes from this blog were shared from a presentation that Karen Mabie, Ed.S., NCSP, CEP  (Therapeutic Consultant), and Clark Hammond, Ph.D., LMFT gave at the IECA National Conference in 2014.