Meeting with a therapist for the first time can feel frightening and overwhelming, and you’re likely to have an abundance of questions for your therapist. There are plenty of ways to make starting counseling less intimidating. One of those ways is to make sure you’ve chosen a therapist who will be a good fit for you.
Before committing to a regular schedule with a therapist, there are 6 questions you should know the answers to. These questions can typically be answered in an initial phone or in-person consultation with your potential therapist.
1. What Type of Therapy Do You Offer?
Most therapists specialize in a particular kind of therapy such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Gestalt, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Psychodynamic, or Family Systems. Each of these schools of thought will inform how that therapist works; how they personally believe change and growth occur.
For example, Psychodynamic therapists pay special attention to past relationships and behaviors to help understand current crises. CBT focuses on helping you to understand how your thoughts, feelings and behaviors affect each other, as well as teaching you skills to help you make changes in these areas.
It’s also important to understand how your therapist will work with you each week. Will you be assigned “homework”? What will be expected of you? If you’re seeking therapy for a specific problem, inquire how they would approach it.
2. Do You Work With Both Adults and Kids?
While some therapists are very clear on whether they serve adults and/or children, many do not necessarily have this out on their websites. If you are planning on consulting with a therapist, make sure that you ask what experience they have in working with that particular age range. If inquiring about therapy for children, make sure to also ask about what you kind of involvement will be expected from the family. Working with children typically involves parents or primary care givers to do some work themselves so that positive changes can be reinforced at home as well, but many parents are not aware of this, so make sure to ask.
3. How Much Experience Do You Have Treating People Like Me?
You wouldn’t hire a hairdresser to fix your leaky faucet, so why hire a therapist who doesn’t have experience treating people with issues similar to yours. Therapists often specialize in specific areas and become experts on that particular treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask this question to ensure you’re getting the best therapist for your needs.
If they don’t specialize in what you’re looking for, ask if they have any references that do. Often, therapists will refer you out anyway, if they feel that a colleague would be a better fit for you.
Finding the right therapist for you may take some time, but the search will be worthwhile.
4. Is Contact Allowed In-Between Sessions?
If it’s important to you to be able to call, email or text your therapist with questions or concerns in-between sessions, ask what their policy is. Some therapists may only allow contact in case of emergency. If this is the case, you’ll want to be sure to ask what constitutes an emergency.
Some therapists may read email messages or listen to voicemails but will not respond, while others will reply or call you back.
Understanding your potential therapists policy for contact between sessions is essential to ensure you are both a good fit for each other.
5. What Happens if You Have an Emergency?
Once you know what constitutes an emergency, you’ll want to know how they help you handle one. Some therapists will allow you to call them at home or at their office while others will use an answering service that will get a message to them. Still, others may ask you to call a crisis line or go to the hospital.
6. What Type of Payment or Insurance Do You Take?
Insurance companies are difficult to navigate for both clients and providers alike. Many therapists are out-of-network and you are expected to pay the fee on your own and then submit the bill to your insurance to get reimbursed. Feel free to look through our FAQ page for more answers to your questions about what to expect in therapy.
About the author(s)
Karen is the founder and Clinical Director of Cohesive Therapy NYC. She earned a Masters in Social Work from New York University and has extensive training in Hypnosis, Anxiety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Brainspotting, and DGBI. She is a member of the Institute of Certified Anxiety Treatment Professionals, The Rome Foundation, the National Association of Social Workers, The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, and the American Social of Clinical Hypnosis.