Therapy is an intimate and often challenging relationship. Great care must be taken when someone selects a therapist.
You are about to “hire” a person who will become privy to your most intimate secrets, who you want to trust to keep your life private, and who hope you will help you to solve the problem that has led you to their office.
When someone elects to choose me to become their therapist, I can safely assume they have learned something about me from another patient, from their insurance company or through online resources. Or maybe another therapist has referred them to me.
But rarely has a patient said to me, “I chose you because …” — and given me a specific reason or reasons.
Questions — we all have them
Usually, a therapist you are meeting for the first time will ask you a series of questions. For the most part, the questions are focused on why you’re there.
It’s only fair, then, that as the person doing the “hiring,” you come to the table with a list of your own questions. After all, how else will you really know if you’ve found the right person for the job?
Start with the problem
Even a person who doesn’t know a lot about therapy probably knows that there are many ways of going about the process. Unless a person has already engaged in therapy, they may not know what style, theoretical orientation or methodology will be the most likely to lead to a positive outcome for the job.
When an employer is choosing an employee, they give a lot of thought to who the ideal employee is and how can that person be identified. It’s the same for your choice of therapist.
So, begin by writing a brief description of the qualities and skills you think you want in your employee.
Of course, you want a “good listener” but what other qualities matter?
Remember, you are not an equal opportunity employer: Your choice is personal to you and should be based on the type of person who makes you comfortable.
Next, write a brief description of what the problem is – giving it a name and describing it is the first step toward resolution. Not a narrative or a litany of complaints, but something that can be expressed in, say, 150 words. This is intended to help organize your thoughts so you can formulate the questions that will guide your interview.
Finally, as you begin to list your questions, ask yourself: “What do I want to say about the therapy experience six months from now?”
16 questions to ask your prospective therapist
With preparation behind you, here are some suggestions for interview questions designed to reveal the best person for the job. This list does not include basic questions that most people do ask like cost, whether their insurance is accepted, hours of availability, cancellation policy, length of sessions, etc.
Rather, these questions are intended to help provide insight into the potential relationship between you and your therapist. Some of these might come as quite a surprise!
1. How did you get into counseling as a profession?
This question will tell you how the person thinks about therapy and something about their personality which might or might not fit for you.
2. How long have you been licensed and what do you consider your specialty?
Research shows that counselors who have been in practice for a decade or more have better reviews and outcomes than newer therapists. You certainly want to know if the therapist has experience with your problem.
3. Have you ever seen a counselor yourself?
This will tell you if they value the process and have personal experience with the challenges that come with therapy.
4. Do you give homework? Why or why not?
Research tells us that most change does not occur in the therapist’s office but in the time/space between sessions.
5. Do you keep notes? Why or why not?
How do they remember details if they don’t keep notes. You certainly don’t want to be confused with someone else!
6. Are you in supervision or a peer consultation group?
Shows evidence of how engaged in the process over time are they. Some problems and people are tough or unusual. How does this therapist get other thoughts and suggestions from other professionals about the work?
7. What is your experience with my problem?
Pretty obviously important but you might be surprised by the fact that some people and problems are very unusual.
8. What type of therapy do you primarily employ in addressing that problem?
If you know something about methods or “schools of thought” this will tell you about “fit”. If you know nothing it can lead to educational information to help you decide.
9. How do you address previously unrevealed substance abuse or trauma?
This question might lead the therapist to suspect that there are deeper issues for you, but it might also tell you something more about how they deal with challenges.
10. Do you think the diagnosis is important for successful therapy?
Another question that reveals how they think about problems. I make a distinction between medical diagnosis and “working hypothesis”. I reveal this to clients often and always if asked.
11. How frequently do you see clients? Why?
Is there enough time between sessions to do homework if given? Are they “appreciating” the severity of the crisis if you feel you are in one.
The next three questions can be controversial and challenging. The more experienced therapists will have had these experiences. Are they able and willing to tell you some answers while keeping anonymity?
12. Have you ever been fired? If yes, why?
All therapists have been fired, but maybe not directly; the client who just disappears has fired us without telling us what to improve.
13. Do you ever fire clients? If so, why?
Therapists have spoken and unspoken expectations of clients. This question lets you know an important boundary and expectation.
14. What is the hardest problem for you to work with?
Provides you with knowledge of their experience and what challenges them.
15. How do you determine when counseling should end?
Since successful therapy depends most on the relationship of client and therapist, it’s not unusual that the therapist makes the determination before the client wants to about the end (termination). What is their criteria?
16. How do you define successful therapy?
This will guide the decision about termination and set the stage for a therapy plan.
Plus — a couple of bonus questions
If you are seeking couples or family counseling, it is relevant to ask:
- Are you married? Do you have kids?
This is obviously relevant to their first-hand knowledge about your problem.
- Do you see the individuals in a couple or family in addition to seeing everyone together?
Most experienced therapists will say some version of “yes” to this question. But some professional ethical guidelines practically forbid it. How does this therapist deal with that conundrum?
Ultimately, it’s about feeling better
If you enter the consulting room with an intent to be both truthful and unguarded as the therapist asks their questions, you will see an appropriate place to begin your side of the interview and the experienced therapist will often answer these questions without being asked.
Be interested and straightforward that you want to get a sense of who this therapist is and if they will be a good fit for you.
The counseling relationship is based on collaboration and these questions and others they may spawn will set the stage for useful — hopefully successful — conversations. And, if all goes well, the interventions the expert employee you have hired will utilize to help you feel better and grow.
This article was originally published on YourTango.com