Choosing a therapist could be one of the most important things you do in your life and it can be difficult. Many well-meaning people become therapists but they are not all good at it, nor do they all have the right personality or style appropriate for all situations. For example, a sarcastic, funny therapist may be appreciated by some people as humor helps people feel at ease but this may be the exact wrong approach to take with someone else, who may feel they are being laughed at or insulted.
With healthcare the way it is, many people are simply assigned a therapist and then just show up to the session. There is no research into the therapist at all and no feeling of control over their own healthcare; many times the client does not even know the therapist's last name. This makes it difficult to research the therapist's education or check to see if there are complaints against them. These things are very important, because there are many good therapists and counselors but there are also a lot of really bad ones.
Many people might feel a little aggressive or forward asking their therapist these questions but it's very important for your well-being and it's great practice at being assertive. Remember: it's your well-being and your money. Take an active role! It'll work out so much better that way.
10 Questions to Ask Your Therapist
After you've gotten things like insurance and appointments out of the way, some of the questions you might want to ask your new therapist are:
How long have you been practicing? This is important for many obvious reasons, but the most important one is because you want to deal with someone who has experience with many different kinds of situations.
What type of training have you had? This is important background information so that you can get an idea what techniques the therapist is familiar with and what will work for you.
What type of experience have you had with people who have [my diagnosis]? This is very important. If you've been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you might not want to see a therapist that has never worked with someone who has that illness. Many illnesses and diagnoses require a certain type of approach. If the therapist is not familiar with it, therapy could do more harm than good. Therapy is not "one size fits all" and these type of therapists should probably be avoided.
What is your approach to therapy with people who have [my diagnosis]?This lets you know the style and type of techniques your therapist has found success with in the past regarding your disorder.
Are you available after-hours in an emergency? This lets you know whether the therapist can be contacted after hours if you are in crisis. For some people, this is very important and if the therapist says no, it may be a dealbreaker for you.
Do you take calls during sessions? This is important and it should be asked right away so there are no nasty surprises later. Many clients have had their sessions interrupted by phone calls and feel extremely hurt or angered by it. Be sure to let the therapist know if you are not OK with them taking calls and decide together if this will be the right fit for you. If the therapist says that they do take calls during sessions, think about whether you will really be OK with that before you agree. You may be asked to stop talking or leave the room, even if you are in the middle of a very emotional disclosure.
What is your cancellation policy? This helps you understand clearly what will happen if you can't make it, so you are not surprised and angered by a bill that you didn't see coming.
What is your style of treatment? Is he or she sarcastic, are they indirect, are they aggressive, are they laid back, do they joke or tease...? These are important things to know to avoid personality clashes and hurt feelings later. As we see in the example above, not all approaches work with everybody. You want to find the right fit for you. For instance, if you are sensitive or easily-upset, an aggressive sarcastic therapist or one who jokes around too much is probably not right for you. If you are very stubborn or a procrastinator, a more aggressive therapist might be necessary.
What are your feelings about medication? Some therapists are pro-medication and some are not. For some clients, meds are out. If the therapist even suggests them, this is a deal-breaker. For others, meds are needed and they require a therapist who will support them in suggesting meds to the doctor. It's best to find out where your therapist stands on this right away so you can make your decision appropriately.
How will we know when therapy has been successful? This is very important. Therapy is not generally supposed to continue on for years and years with no end in sight (except in cases of certain personality disorders). There should be a light at the end of the tunnel. Vague answers such as, "Well, that's up to you" or "You'll know when you know" are not really acceptable here. Of course it ultimately is up to you, but we are looking for a more concrete answer such as, "Well, we can consider it a success when you are no longer pathologically afraid of snakes" or "When you can go to the park without having a panic attack, we will know you are ready to move on."
We should approach the therapy relationship as an active partnership between two people: ourselves and the therapist. Good therapy requires willingness and action on the parts of both parties involved. It requires trust, skill, understanding and communication. This is a person you are entrusting with your mental health and that should not be taken lightly.
Moreover, the therapist is a person you are hiring to do a job. People can lose sight of this in the often-skewed power structure of the therapist-client relationship but make no mistake: you are paying the therapist to perform a service for you. You certainly would not hire the first person off the street - sight unseen - to build your home or care for your child. It's the same thing. Don't be afraid to ask questions and get some background from your therapist before you decide to hire them. Interview them, the way you would interview anybody before you hired them. Questions like "How long have you been practicing?" or "What type of training have you had?" and "What experience do you have working with people who have [this diagnosis]?" are very important. You wouldn't hire someone to care for an infant who has only ever worked with school-age children. If the therapist's answers are not to your satisfaction, find a different one.
Please see Part I of this article: 40 Signs You Might Need a New Therapist