The idea of beginning therapy with a new therapist can be a frightening thought. But there are ways to make starting counseling easier and less intimidating.
Before you ever enter a therapist’s office, there are some basic questions you should know the answer to:
Are they licensed to provide counseling or therapy, and is their license up-to-date? Do they take insurance? How long are sessions? What is the cost for each session? What type of payment do they accept? Do they treat the problem you’re seeking help for? What are their hours? What is their cancellation policy?
In addition to these questions, there are more specific things you may want to inquire about that will help you find out if a particular therapist will be a good fit with you:
- What type of therapy do you provide?Many therapists come from a particular school of thought, like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), Family Systems, Psychodynamic, Gestalt, etc. This is what forms the foundation for how they work, how they believe change and growth happen, and what they see their role as a therapist as.For example, CBT focuses on the here-and-now with the therapist giving more direct guidance and teaching specific skills. Psychodynamic therapists look closely at past relationships and behaviors to help understand current difficulties and functioning. EMDR is used for clients with trauma to quickly provide relief from anxiety and long-term changes in how trauma is processed in the mind. Some therapists will say that they are eclectic, in which case you may want to ask them to describe how they work. Do they assign clients ‘homework’, give advice, or ask questions? If you have a specific problem you’re coming in to therapy for, ask them what approach they would take.
- What happens if I have an emergency? Some therapists will allow you to call them at home or at their office. Others use an answering service that will get a message to them, and others will ask you to call a crisis line or go to the hospital.
- How do you handle clients who self-harm, use drugs, or otherwise act in a self-destructive manner? If you are seeing a therapist because you cut yourself, struggle with bulimia or anorexia, abuse drugs or alcohol, it’s important to know how your therapist will react. Some therapists have clear policies about not seeing clients who are intoxicated or high, or who recently hurt themselves.
- Do you allow clients to email you between sessions? What about phone calls? Text messages? Every therapist has his or her own policy about how much contact (if any) is allowed between appointments. Some may only allow it in an emergency (be sure to ask what constitutes an emergency); others may state that they will read emails or listen to phone messages but will not respond. Others will reply or call back.
One of the most important things to keep in mind as you go for your first therapy appointment is that you don’t have to go back if you find that the fit between you and the therapist is not a good one. By having one appointment, you are not committing to anything. Use the first session as a chance to get a feel for how your therapist works and they dynamic between the two of you. Do you feel like you are heard and understood? Do you feel respected and empowered? Were your questions answered?
Finding a good therapist may take some time; not every therapist is right for every person. But finding a good therapist who can help you is possible, so don’t give up.
photo from Shutterstock
Last reviewed: 10 Aug 2012
Harmon, J. (2012). 4 Important Questions to Ask Before You Choose a Therapist. Psych Central.
Retrieved on May 23, 2013, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/your-life/2012/08/4-important-questions-to-ask-before-you-choose-a-therapist/