The first, and maybe most important step of your journey.
Even though a therapist may come highly recommended and has many years of experience helping countless others, he or she still may not be the best match for you or your needs. It is essential that you feel comfortable with the person whom you will inevitably entrust with your personal stories, deepest secrets and/or greatest fears. Take some time to interview a few different therapists if you can. You have a right to ask questions and make an informed choice. This is important because anytime there is significant suffering, it can be difficult to think clearly. It may be challenging to know what questions to ask – the following are things to remember and a list of questions you can use during your first visit or phone call.
Be prepared to interview a therapist by phone or in their own office. Most therapists will talk to you briefly over the phone when they call you back. As you may know, therapists are difficult to reach directly, so be prepared to leave a detailed message, giving them alternative times and phone numbers where you can be reached, day and evening. Tell them how you were referred, and explain your intention in wanting further information from them. When asking about an initial interview, ask whether you will be charged and how much. Some therapists charge full fee, while others will waive their fee entirely.
- Do you have openings? How soon can you get me in? How long is the wait?
- Are you available for appointments on weekends? Evenings?
- Do you charge for an initial appointment? How much?
- What is your fee? Do you take reduced sliding fee clients? Is there a cash discount? Do you take credit cards? Must I pay in full at the time of service, or can I make partial payments?
- How long are your sessions?
- Are you in my insurance plan’s mental/behavioral health network? Do you file my insurance claims for me? Can I just pay my insurance co-payment?
- What is your theoretical orientation for doing therapy? (If you don’t understand their answer, ask them to explain.)
- How long have you been practicing psychotherapy? Are you licensed? Do you have a consulting supervisor?
- What is your experience with my kind of problems?
- What’s the expected time frame in order to treat my kind of problem? Is it a long term or short term course of treatment? What results could I expect?
- What’s your preferred style for doing therapy? Individual? Group? Family? Weekly? Monthly?
- Where do you practice? Private office, hospital, clinic, agency, group practice? Is there free parking?
- Are you available for emergencies by phone? Do you charge for phone calls? Reading emails?
- What is your policy for cancellations, lateness, forgetting or changing appointments?
After your first visit
Being a good therapist goes beyond being a good listener. Be attentive to how the therapist may relate to you and treat you during the interview. Ideally, an experienced practitioner will convey warmth, genuineness and respectful interest for you and your concerns. Was he/she empathetic, dynamic and alive? Were they able to give you specific insightful feedback, even during the initial interview? A good therapist may also convey mutual trust and not be afraid to confront or challenge you and your beliefs. Pay attention to your gut reactions.
Above all, a competent therapist should leave you with feeling of comfort and confidence in them as a human being and their therapeutic skills and abilities. Most importantly, you may begin to feel uplifted and hopeful about your future, by the time the interview is over.
Is this the right person for you?
The relationship between you and your therapist is of primary importance. A therapist’s personal qualities, attitudes, expectations, beliefs, and values matters as much as their particular technique, approach or theoretical orientation in making therapy work. The following are questions you may ask yourself to determine how compatible you felt during and after your interview:
- Did the therapist convey personal warmth and concern for you?
- Were they genuinely interested in you and your welfare in a supportive manner?
- Were they sensitive to your feelings? Were you treated with courtesy and respect?
- Did the therapist make eye contact?
- Was there an atmosphere of mutual trust?
- Did you believe they were listening to you and could understand you?
- Were you able to talk easily and honestly with them? Could you be yourself?
- Were they accepting and affirming of your individuality?
- Did the therapist give you adequate feedback?
- Were you comfortable questioning or disagreeing with them?
- Were they insightful, being able to sense things beyond your present awareness?
- Did they have a touch of human wisdom, a sense of understanding that goes beyond technique and theory?
- Did you like them? Did you find their values and attitudes compatible with yours?
- Were you comfortable with the decor and physical set up of the waiting room and office setting?
I believe that the process of finding the right therapist is one of the reasons that people avoid talking to a professional – if it was guaranteed that the therapist was great and that things would improve, more people would seek it out. The truth is – if you are looking for a counselor, you should take the time to do the research and interview a couple of them. Maybe if you’re lucky you will find the right one the first time, but be prepared to talk to a few. And don’t be nervous – you are interviewing them, they are providing a service to you. You have nothing to lose. Best of luck on your path.