Finding a local therapist is daunting. There are several things you can do to help distinguish the best-licensed providers.
First and most important part is to find a therapist that is right for you. Don’t fall into the trap of letting proximity, insurance coverage, or cost dictate your choice. This is not always easy, but it is worth it in the long run. (Remember to stay within reason on costs and other variables.)
Second, interview your therapist. Ask for a single visit to interview them. Legit therapists also want to know if you are the fit for them. Ask the hard questions. They will not flinch if they are a properly licensed and practicing therapist.
Third, therapists are not a Swiss Army Knife for all problems. You choose a therapist that has the skills and experience to take on your biggest specific needs.
Interviewing Your Therapist
When you are meeting with a new therapist for the first time, you must find out if they are the right fit for you and your mental health needs. This process may seem uncomfortable, but therapy is for YOU, so you want to ensure the therapist can help you in the best way possible.
Choose Mental Health has compiled a list of 40 common interview questions that you can ask a potential therapist to help gauge compatibility. These questions are broken down into separate categories and, while you don’t have to ask EVERY question, they are a good starting point for interviewing and getting to know a new or potential therapist.
40 Questions to Ask a New Therapist
Training and Qualifications
What Is Your Training and Educational Background?
Ideally, your therapist must have a master’s or Doctoral degree in a mental health-related field. Such degrees include extensive training in therapy, including psychology, psychiatry, psychiatric nursing, or counseling.
Through Which Organizations Are You Licensed?
Therapists may or may not be licensed by a State. This is neither good or bad but has to be considered carefully. For example a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) and a LMFT is the same college degree. The added “L” references a license in the title. What the difference comes down to is the licensed provider (LMFT), operate under a State Licensing Board. In other words, this licensed provider has documented hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of counseling. This is in addition to the other hoops required by the State. At the end of the day, the better therapist may be hard to determine, however, the therapist who is licensed has accomplished a great deal more than non-licensed providers. For that reason they are also more likely to be accepted by insurance.
How Long Have You Been Working In This Field?
Understanding how many years of experience the therapist has, can help gauge how much knowledge they have in addressing your needs. The longer a therapist has been practicing, the better they may be able to treat you.
Are You Registered With Any State or National Organizations?
Outside of the licensing board, it can be helpful to know if the therapist is registered with any other organizations. This can show a deeper dedication to their craft, as well as further participation in the therapy community.
Are You Current With Your “Continuing Education” (CE) Training?
Therapists are required to take continuing education courses to keep their license valid and ensure they are staying up-to-date on any changes in therapy treatments. Check that the therapist you are interviewing is current with these training courses to help you feel confident in their services.
In What Service Do You Specialize?
Therapists begin with general training in all aspects of treatments. However, as they continue to practice, they find areas of specialty and interventions and modalities they excel at and become specialists in. Finding out what a potential therapist specializes in can help determine if they are a good fit for you.
Can You Give Me Examples of Successful Interventions?
Without revealing private patient information, a therapist should be able to give you examples of how their treatments have helped other people. Successful stories should help you feel more confident in their ability to help you.
Do You Have Experience or Issues Dealing With (religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, etc.)
This question will pertain to your own background. If you want a treatment that incorporates a specific religion’s teachings, you need to know if the therapist understands that. Additionally, if you need to discuss situations relating to gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity or race issues, you want to make sure the therapist can adequately address it without judgment or preconceived notions.
Do You Also See a Therapist?
Everyone can benefit from therapy — even therapists. You don’t have to know (and shouldn’t know) what they are seeing a therapist for, but therapists who are in therapy often relate better to their patients, since they are experiencing similar situations.
On Average, How Long Does Treatment Take?
There may be no way to pinpoint exactly how long your treatment may take. However, the potential therapist should be able to give you a general estimate based on their experiences with other patients. Knowing how long you could be in therapy can be a deciding factor when choosing the right therapist.
How Can I Tell If Treatment Is Working?
Therapy is often emotionally draining and it can be hard to see progress while you’re in the middle of treatment. The therapist should be able to provide specific examples of how to know treatment is working so you can know what to expect as you move through the process.
What If the Treatment Approach Doesn’t Work?
If the first treatment option doesn’t appear to be helping, you should know what the therapist’s next steps would be. There is no one treatment that will work for every patient, so it is good to know how to move forward if things aren’t working.
What Does a Typical Session Look Like?
Does each session start with a recap of the last session? Do you chat for a few minutes before diving into the issues? This is where you can find out how the therapist runs their sessions and keeps things on track.
How Often Would You Need to See Me?
Depending on the things you are dealing with and the potential treatment plan suggested, the therapist may want to see you weekly, twice a month, or monthly. Knowing how often you need to be seen helps you determine if the treatment schedule — and associated costs — fit with your needs.
What Would My Treatment Plan Look Like?
You should understand what your proposed treatment plan will look like to ensure that everything makes sense and you feel comfortable with it.
Do You Provide a Recap at the End of Every Session?
Therapy sessions often cover a lot of information and it can be hard to recall what is discussed or what you need to work on outside of therapy. Find out if the potential therapist provides a written recap at the end of sessions or gives you notes on what to do for the next session.
Who Does Most of the Talking During Sessions?
If you have never been to therapy before, you may be worried about who does most of the talking during each session. Ask the potential therapist about this to help you prepare and feel comfortable for the talking you’ll do during each visit.
Goals for Therapy
Do You Set Up Goals for Every Client?
Therapy without specific goals can feel like it’s going nowhere. As you are interviewing a therapist, ask them if they set up goals for every client to measure treatment progression.
How Do You Set Goals? Track Them?
If the therapist does set goals with patients, ask how they decide which goals you should have and how they track your progress with them. This helps you determine how therapy treatment is going and if it is working for you.
What Type of Goals Would You Recommend, Based on my Issues?
Based on the issues you have presented to the therapist, they should be able to recommend specific goals to help meet your needs. If you know what they would want you to work on, you can determine if their treatment plan and goals are in line with your needs.
How Do You Think Therapy Can Help Me?
Many people are leary of therapy and tend to think that it won’t help them. A good therapist should be able to pinpoint specific reasons and treatments that they think make therapy a good choice for you. If you agree with what they tell you, it could mean that they might be a good fit for you.
When Can I Anticipate Seeing Improvements?
Healing through therapy doesn’t have a specific timeline. This means that you could be doing better in some ways but regressing in others. But after some time, you should be able to see improvements with your issues and feel better about therapy. Ask the therapist when you can anticipate seeing improvements so you know what to expect moving forward.
How Do You Gauge Progress?
You may not feel like you are progressing during your therapy treatments but it may be hard to look objectively at your positive changes. Ask the therapist how they gauge and discuss progress to decide if their plan would help you and fit your needs.
What Treatment Options Do You Offer?
There are many different types of therapy treatments, and some are more common than others. Additionally, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment, meaning you may have to try a few different approaches to find something that helps. Discover what the potential therapist offers so you can get an idea of what your treatment may look like.
Can You Explain Some of Your Treatment Options to Me?
Ask the therapist to explain some of the most common treatment options to you, especially ones that work well with your specific issues. You want to understand what treatment may look like when deciding if it is right for you.
How Do You Address (anxiety, depression, trauma — whatever issues you are experiencing).
If you have a specific issue that hasn’t been addressed yet or you haven’t talked about any issues yet, ask the therapist how they approach those things. It may be time to move on if they don’t treat what you are dealing with. Having a good approach that you feel comfortable with, may be good at addressing your needs.
How many years of experience do you have working with my problem, condition, or history? (addiction, OCD, ADD, ADHD, borderline personality disorder, sleeping difficulties, a history of childhood trauma, relationships, etc.)
A therapist that works specifically with one or two conditions or personal histories is going to have more in-depth experience with those issues. Make sure that the potential therapist has specific experience with your problems to determine whether they can help you.
Are the Treatment Options You Offer Effective for My Issues?
Don’t be afraid to ask about success rates for recommended treatment options for your specific issues. If they are offering treatment that doesn’t seem to address your problems, the therapist won’t be able to help you resolve them.
Do You Practice Therapy Full Time? Or Offer Extended Treatment Hours?
Full-time therapists and those with extended hours tend to have more availability to see patients. You want to make sure that you can fit therapy sessions into your own schedule or it will be harder to continue the treatment you need.
Do You Offer Group Therapy? Family Therapy?
Depending on what you are dealing with, you may benefit from additional therapy options such as group therapy or family therapy. Ask if the therapist offers these options and whether they would help your specific situation. These therapies may not be needed but it’s nice to know if they are an option.
Do You Take Insurance? My Insurance?
Many therapist offices take insurance but you want to check if they do, and that they take the plan you have, before moving forward with any treatment plans.
What Are Your Fees?
If the therapist doesn’t take your insurance, you need to know what their fees are. Fees play a big role in determining the frequency of appointments or if you can move forward with this therapist at all.
Do You Offer Payment Plans? A Sliding-Scale Fee Plan?
There is no harm in finding out if the therapist offers payment plans or a sliding-scale fee plan for individuals with lower incomes. If you like the therapist you are interviewing and want to move forward with them, find out what they can do to help you afford their services.
Can You Prescribe Medications? If Not, What Do I Do If I Need Them?
Not every mental health issue requires medication, but many do. Find out if this therapist can prescribe medications if they are needed, and what happens if you need them but they can’t be prescribed by your therapist.
How Confidential Are Our Sessions?
There are some things that therapists are legally required to report to external agencies. These situations include domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, and if the patient threatens serious public or self-harm. Reporting requirements vary from state to state, so you should understand what the therapist may need to report if you bring it up in a session.
Do You Have Multiple Locations?
Some therapists operate out of multiple locations to better suit patient needs. Ask if they have another location, and where it is, if the current location isn’t easily accessible for you.
What Should I Do If I Feel Like We Aren’t a Good Fit?
Many people continue to see a therapist, even if they aren’t a good fit, because they are worried about offending the therapist. As you are interviewing potential therapists, make sure to ask them how you should approach this situation if it happens. Knowing how to end a patient/therapist relationship can help you feel more comfortable moving forward.
How Should I Prepare for Our First Session?
When you are interviewing a potential therapist, it is not your first therapy session. Talk to the therapist about what you can do to prepare for the first session, including if you need to bring anything, what you should plan on discussing, and if there is anything else you should do to make the most of the appointment.
Do You Assign Homework or Tasks After Each Session?
Therapy isn’t just talking to a therapist in an office. There is work you’ll have to do outside of each session to see lasting change and results. Determine if the therapist assigns you “homework” or additional tasks outside of therapy to understand if their plan is going to help you.
Will We Start Talking About My Childhood or Something Else?
Most people have unresolved childhood trauma that leads to future mental health problems later on. So, do you start from the beginning and work your way up or start somewhere else? The therapist should be able to tell you where they like to begin your therapy treatment, so you know what to bring up first.
Should I Expect to Cry?
Therapy brings out a lot of emotions and it is perfectly normal and acceptable to cry during a session. However, not everyone cries, and not every session will lead to tears. If you are worried about crying in front of the therapist, ask them if you should expect to cry, how often you might cry, and how they handle things when a patient cries.
Is There Anything I Should Do Before Each Session?
Outside of completing homework or tasks between sessions (if assigned), ask the therapist if there is anything you should do. This could include taking notes on thoughts and feelings you have during the week. See what the therapist recommends to determine if you can commit to what they ask for.
Interview a Potential Therapist With Confidence
These 40 questions can help you get to know a potential therapist. It may take a few tries to find the right therapist for you, but it is well worth the process. This ensures that you are getting adequate help for the problems you are facing. Take these questions with you for every potential therapist interview to help you feel confident in finding a new therapist.
ABOUT CHOOSE MENTAL HEALTH
Choose Mental Health is changing nationally the approach to mental health for children. As advocates for our nation’s youth, we must do better. Our children need a stigma-free space to explore, communicate and get answers, real answers on how to solve mental health problems.
Kids and youth deserve our best mental health solutions, help and support. They deserve to not be afraid of their thoughts. They deserve the best we can give them. By supporting Choose Mental Health you are standing up for 20 million children and youth with chronic or debilitating mental health needs suffering right now.
Choose Mental Health needs your best, to give help to children who need our best.
Join us and make mental health a positive topic.
Founded in Orem Utah, Choose Mental Health leads the mental health movement nationally for youth and children with a determination to leave the world and our children better than we found them. We invite individuals and corporations to stand up for our most vulnerable children population. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
See ChooseMentalHealth.org/about/ for more information.
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