5 Questions You Should Ask Your Potential Therapist
So, you’ve decided that it’s finally time to start therapy – congratulations! Reaching out for help is one of the bravest and most life-enhancing decisions you can make. The trouble is, now that you’ve decided to start, how do you find the right person to start with? Choosing the right therapist is one of the single most important decisions you can make for your mental health. In fact, studies show that despite what therapists might want to believe, neither training, length of time practicing, overall experience or therapeutic modality impact your treatment success more than one single factor: your relationship with your therapist.
So no pressure to pick the right one, right?
Your therapeutic journey is more than just a commitment of time and money, it's an act of trust, so it's essential to find someone you can feel comfortable with, and who you feel can truly help you navigate your emotions, trauma, or whatever challenges you’re facing.
But how to get started? Well, I’m glad you asked. As with all journeys, literal and metaphorical, they’re best approached with preparation. So here are five crucial questions you should ask your potential therapist to ensure they're the right fit for you.
1. What is your therapeutic approach and philosophy?
While approach doesn’t generally matter as much as the relationship, the truth is that a therapist’s chosen approach and philosophy can impact that relationship in very tangible ways. Every therapist has a unique approach to therapy that is informed by their training, experience, and personal beliefs. And the model they use can have a huge impact on how you spend your time in session. Some may employ Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns. Others might use psychodynamic therapy, rooted in exploring past experiences and subconscious beliefs to better understand past and present experiences. Others may use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), both of which involve learning mindfulness and emotion regulation skills, and employ a liberal amount of practice outside of sessions. And there's also humanistic and person-centered therapy, which emphasizes personal growth and self-fulfillment in a very client-led and non-directive manner. And that's just scratching the surface.
Why it matters: Knowing the therapeutic approach will give you an idea of what to expect and decide if it aligns with your personal philosophy and what you’re looking for. Do you want tangible strategies for change in the present? Or perhaps you’re looking for a deep dive into your psyche or past trauma to uncover and process root causes for current experiences. Are you interested in bringing things home with you to play with in your life, or would you prefer a
contained space for emotional output from week to week but nothing to “do” in between sessions? These are all things to consider before you meet with your potential therapist and ask about in the first meeting. And make sure to ask the therapist why they prefer their chosen approach and how it's benefited their clients in the past.
2. What is your experience with my specific issue or concern?
While you'll likely be hard-pressed to find a therapist who doesn't know how to work with depression or anxiety, therapists often specialize in certain areas based on interest, training, and even their own personal lived experiences. The more specific you happen to be about what you're experiencing, the better the therapist will be able to identify if they're the right person for you, or be able to help refer you to the person who is. And while a therapist doesn’t need to specialize in your specific concern to help you, they should certainly have experience and familiarity with it. So ask about their history working with people experiencing similar things to you and don't be afraid to ask about outcomes. While they legally won't be able to give you specifics, their answer will provide insights into what you can expect going forward.
Why it matters: Therapists who have dealt with your specific issue will have a better understanding of the nuances and complexities involved. They'll be more equipped with tools, techniques, and strategies tailored to your needs. If they haven’t treated someone with your concern before, they should be transparent about it and be able to give you their reasoning as to why that does or doesn't matter. From there, it’s up to you to decide whether you'd like to proceed.
3. What do you charge, and what is your policy on cancellations?
Ok, brass tacks time. Therapy is an investment in yourself, and generally not a small investment either. Even if you're lucky enough to have insurance coverage, there can be copays and deductibles that make the cost of therapy add up quickly. And just like outside of the therapy room, very little harms a relationship more quickly than issues around money. So it's essential to know upfront what the financial commitment will be. In addition, this is also about gauging how flexible or strict a therapist might be regarding missed sessions. Cancellation policies are dictated almost solely by the practice, so they can vary widely. Just remember that none of this is personal. Therapists are people, too, and holding boundaries isn't just something we teach to our clients.
Why it matters: Financial strain can be a stressor, so it’s critical to find a therapist whose rates are within your budget or who works with your insurance. Additionally, life happens — sometimes you might get sick or have an emergency. Knowing the cancellation policy can help you avoid unexpected fees and ensure the relationship isn't hindered by any miscommunications right from the start.
4. How will we measure progress?
Therapeutic goals can be broad (like "feel happier") or specific (like "develop coping strategies for panic attacks"), and how these are framed depends on a number of factors, including therapeutic model, your personal goals, the clinician's philosophy, and whether insurance is involved. Whichever the case, it’s important to understand how you and your therapist will track your progress. And while this goes right back to being specific about personal goals, don't worry about knowing too much in advance. This is a question that the therapist should have a solid answer for and you simply need to decide if what they say feels aligned with what you're looking for.
Why it matters: It's the very, very rare case where therapy is expected to last forever (did I mention very...). So defining and measuring progress provides direction for the therapy, ensures that you’re moving towards your desired outcomes, and keeps both you and your therapist accountable to the work. And, bluntly, it's just fun to succeed. Regularly checking in on your goals will give you a tangible sense of achievement and opportunities to celebrate as you notice changes in your life.
5. How do you handle feedback or concerns about the therapy?
While we don't often like to speak in absolutes, here's one I can say without any hesitation: any good therapist loves feedback. Therapy is a collaborative process, and your input is invaluable. After all, you're the one looking for help! You should always feel free to voice any concerns or share if something isn't working for you. Now, it's certainly always preferred when the feedback is kept constructive or, at the very least, polite. But bringing your feelings into the room, even those about your therapist is the whole point of what we do. So gauge that right from the start by asking how they handle it when a client gives feedback or concerns about how things are going. And if you catch a hint of defensiveness or, worse, anger in their response, run for the door.
Why it matters: Your therapy sessions are for you. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s essential to address it. Knowing that your therapist is open to feedback ensures that you can have a transparent and open communication line, allowing for adjustments as needed. Remember that your trust in your therapist is a top indicator of your potential success in therapy. Without open communication, there's simply no chance for trust.
Finding the right therapist can be a journey, but like any journey, it's always made better with a little preparation. This journey just happens to lead to self-actualization, deeper relationships (with others and yourself), and an overall increased quality of life. What could be better than that? Just remember that the aim is to find someone with whom you can build a relationship based on trust, understanding, and mutual respect.
These five questions will provide a solid foundation for your search – but don't stop there. Give some thought to the qualities that are important to you in a person with whom you'll be spending a lot of time and, hopefully, sharing your deepest self with. Your mental health is invaluable, and with the right support, you can navigate life's challenges with more clarity and resilience.
If you're ready to begin your search for the right therapist, Lifeologie Counseling is here for you. Meet our many specialists and find out which therapist in our practice is right for you.
About Richard Aab
Richard Aab, LCMHCA, has a BFA in Theatre from NYU and received his Clinical Mental Health Counselor, M.Ed. (Master’s in Education) from North Carolina State University. He is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate (LCMHC-A) and Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). Richard has a deep commitment to working with individuals overcoming developmental and childhood trauma, and he combines cutting-edge, neuroscientific research with traditional existential and behavioral therapeutic modalities. He is supervised by Elizabeth Grady, LCMHCS, and sees adult clients by telehealth.Meet Me