Questions For A Potential Therapist

If you’re thinking about starting therapy, consider interviewing a few therapists and asking some thoughtful questions. While this list is in no way exhaustive, I find these to be the most productive things to ask a potential therapist. Based on your personality, clinical needs, and treatment goals, getting some answers up front may save you some much needed time. Here are my top eight of what to ask at the initial appointment, or over the phone if time allows.

What is your experience working with X population/disorder/situation? 

This is my favorite question. It’s absolutely fair to ask how much the person has been exposed to similar situations that you’re in or with a certain diagnosis. The answer will tell you two things: a) what their experience actually is, and b) their interpretation of your situation. I find the answer to option B most interesting, since what you really want to know is if they’re hearing you and their initial analysis gels with your own assessment and understanding.

What is your theoretical orientation? 

Many people exposed to mental health in some way are becoming more familiar with these terms: CBT, DBT, mindfulness, exposure and response prevention, and PTSD, just to name a few. I’m happy that these are becoming more mainstream, and we therapists definitely have our favorites. It is well worth your time to ask what a therapist is knowledgeable about; some have certifications or specialties that are very valuable. Many general practitioners use a variety of techniques borrowed from many theories, and I find this helps to individualize care based on needs and personality. The most important thing is to hear whether or not your therapist is willing and able to use other perspectives that may be the best fit for you, even if it’s not their most commonly used approach. 

How directive are you during sessions? 

If feedback is important to you, this question matters. Are sessions discussion based, or is the therapist mostly reflective and quiet? Different types of therapy require different levels of involvement, and so how talkative your therapist is will impact you greatly. You can phrase this as “give and take” or whether someone is interested in “problem-solving”, but find out how much participation from this person you can reasonably expect.

How structured are you with a certain amount of weeks in treatment, or are you flexible with coming as needed? 

I know therapists who ask new clients to commit to a certain number of sessions before reevaluating their goals and progress, and I know others who are open to a person coming and going as life requires them to get more support. I find value in both approaches, but you may want to know before beginning with someone how they prefer to operate. Keep in mind, however, that you are going to need to work in and out of the office to practice your new skills, and attending therapy more often (especially in the beginning) is usually the best way to build a relationship with your therapist, and progress towards your goals.

Are you ever willing to meet with my spouse/child/parent/friend? 

This comes up frequently in treatment, since may clients have friends or family that wish to attend sessions from time to time in order to better understand and assist their loved one. Finding out if your therapist is willing to do this ahead of time can be very helpful. Understand that this is very different from family therapy or marital therapy, where there would be treatment goals for two or more individuals together. Having a loved one attend a session does not change your own treatment goals, but focuses that session on how that person can help you, what you might need to tell them, or involve recommendations from the therapist on how to manage a mood disorder within a relationship, to name a few examples.

Are you willing to coordinate with my doctor/school/employee assistance program?

If this is something you think would be helpful, ask. Different therapists are willing to have different levels of involvement with other professionals, and it’s much better to know at the beginning of treatment. Discuss the pros and cons of your therapist talking with other providers for a more collaborative care approach.

How do you handle crisis calls or contacts after hours? 

What are the hours the person is available by phone? Can you email or text? Who do you contact to schedule an appointment, and what are the policies for crisis calls? Practitioners have many ways of managing these issues, and knowing ahead of time what parameters they have is critical for you. For example, I specify to clients that I will not “friend’ them on Facebook, which is my own personal level of comfort, but others may do otherwise. All of these issues fall under the scope of office policies that you have a right to learn about.

What topics do you find yourself studying the most for your continuing education hours? 

How many hours a clinician needs every license period varies by state and education, but most often the choice of how to obtain those hours are up to the individual. I think it’s helpful to know what a therapist spends his or her time learning about, and if it correlates to why you’re attending treatment. The therapist may not hold a certificate in cognitive behavioral therapy, but if she’s spent 36 of the last 45 credit hours studying it, and that’s what you’re looking for, it may be a good fit. 

Other questions- things such as where the clinician attended school, with whom they may have trained, or where they have worked may not be as paramount to your success in therapy. In no way am I knocking my numerous colleagues that attended prestigious institutions or have impressive resumes, but I’m not convinced these are a prerequisite to being a skilled clinician. I believe what matters most is the relationship you can build with this person, how open you can be when you talk with him or her, and how much you feel you can partner together to accomplish your goals.

Ask yourself this very important question: Imagine your absolute worst and lowest time- can you picture reaching out to this therapist in that moment? If the answer is no, ask yourself why. Is it time to continue interviewing other providers?

Take on your mental health. A good therapist can handle any question you throw their way, so get talking, and ask away. It’s our job to give you the information you need to reach your goals. 

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