Going to therapy is always a good thing. It’s a place where you can sit with a trained professional and chat about whatever’s on your mind, all while receiving help and advice. But if you want to make the most of your therapy sessions, there are a few extra things you can do, including asking questions.
“Therapy is at its core a collaborative process — it takes two,” Lauren Freier, MA, LCPC, of Ignite Counseling, LLC, tells Bustle. “Much like with school, a job, or even a relationship, the more you invest yourself and your efforts, the more opportunity you have to gain and grow.” And while it may be difficult, it’s perfectly OK to do.
“You should absolutely feel comfortable asking your therapist questions and expressing your needs throughout the process,” Freier says. “For instance, if you do well with weekly ‘homework’ to help hold yourself accountable toward taking actionable steps toward your goals, make that known.”
Therapy is as much about what you want to do and say as it is about your therapist’s treatment plan, so feel free to make it your own. Here are some questions you may want to ask, according to experts, in order to get the most out of therapy.
“What Kind Of Therapy Do You Offer?”
Young woman with senior female psychologist or mental coach sitting on the comfortable chairs during the psychological counseling in the officeShutterstock
If you’re just getting to know your therapist, one of the first questions you’ll want to ask is what type of therapy they offer, as there are quite a few.
This will help you learn more about their areas of expertise, what specific treatment interventions they use, and also what their style and therapy background looks like, Freier says. This can help you get a sense of who they are, she says, and help you decide if their methods will be a good fit.
After all, you won’t get much out of therapy if you two don’t click, or if you aren’t comfortable with their therapy style. So don’t be afraid to ask.
“How Will I Know We’re A Good Fit?”
It might seem awkward, but it’s also OK to be straightforward and ask your therapist if they think you’re a good fit for each other, and whether they think they can help you.
This is something that can happen during an initial session, which your therapist will likely offer in order to do an assessment and talk about treatment goals, Jennifer M. Simpson, LISW-S, a clinical social worker with Thrive Therapy Inc., tells Bustle. “If your therapist refers [you to another therapist],” she says, “this isn’t a bad sign. In fact, they are likely ensuring you get to the right person to best serve you.”
“What Will My Treatment Plan Look Like?”
beautiful young female psychologist doctor using mobile digital tablet recording all information from her patient talking.Shutterstock
Once you’ve talked and covered the basics of why you’re seeking therapy, you can ask your therapist about their treatment plan, as well as any goals they have for your visits.
“This is crucial to any therapy session as it provides direction,” Kristine Erskine, a therapist with Freedom Counseling, tells Bustle. “It helps you and your therapist to be on the same page regarding what you want out of therapy.”
And these goals are something you can come up with together. “Once one goal has been achieved, you can move on to the next one,” Erskine says. “Additionally, your goals can change if needed throughout the counseling process.”
“Can You Help Me Create Some Goals?”
It’s also OK if you don’t have any goals, or aren’t sure what needs to happen next. That’s where this question can come in handy.
“If you’re having trouble figuring out what your goals are — which can happen if you’re feeling overall crummy and know you just want to feel better — ask your therapist for guidance on how to articulate them,” Victoria Fisher, LMSW, psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle.
These can be goals you work on over time. Simply knowing you have them, and that you’re taking small steps in that direction, can be incredibly helpful.
“Can You Recap What We Talked About?”
Unhappy young woman at a psychologist counselor reception. Client talking about problems. Problems in family, teenage troubles. Conversation with therapist, advice, assistance conceptShutterstock
Since you and your therapist will probably cover a lot of topics during each session, it can help to ask for a quick recap before you leave so that you can remember the key points.
“Ask for reminder on a card or paper about what you discussed during the session or take your own notes in a notebook or on your phone,” Erskine says. “This will help you reflect during the week about what you discussed and remember to practice specific skills that your therapist and you decided upon for the week.”
“What Should I Work On This Week?”
Similarly, you might want to ask for homework or assignments to work on throughout the week, whether it’s “a book to read, or just some general introspection to engage in,” Nicole Miller, MS, LAPC, NCC, a licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle. “Asking for homework outside of the office can help you to increase your knowledge […] as well as also be a catalyst to increasing the rate of change.”
After all, you can’t cover everything in one hour sessions. Success comes from what you do afterward, and the way you implement the things you learned each week. Homework can help keep you in the right head space, while giving you time to practice and reflect.
“How Do You Think I’m Doing?”
Serious friendly african woman internet teacher tutor looking at camera talking, black mixed race millennial female vlogger speaking making video call vlog, online job interview at home, portraitShutterstock
After you’ve been to about three or four sessions, go ahead and ask your therapist how they think you’re doing. This will give you both the chance to reflect on what you’ve talked about so far and any progress you’ve gained, Dr. Jamie Long, licensed clinical psychologist at The Psychology Group, Fort Lauderdale, tells Bustle.
“It’s also a great way to spotlight any patterns that keep showing up,” Long says. “Knowing the repeat issues helps to initiate a course correction in therapy or a deeper dive into unresolved issues, which is important to get the most out of the sessions.”
“Can I Be Honest About How I’m Feeling?”
Therapists are humans, too, and might not always say the right thing. So if you feel like something’s off, let them know. “Don’t wait until you’re dreading going to therapy,” Fisher says. “A good therapist will appreciate your honesty and feedback.”
It might be difficult, but being honest in this way can even make for better therapy sessions. “Not only will this empower you, but it will propel the therapeutic relationship forward by building trust and understanding,” Fisher says. “Because the number one factor of any positive therapy outcome is just that — the connection with your therapist.”
“How Often Do I Need To Come?”
Beautiful young woman discussing her problems with female psychologistShutterstock
How often you need to be visit your therapist — whether it’s once a week, more, or less — can depend on a lot of factors. And yet, it won’t hurt to ask for their opinion, in order to ensure you’re getting the most out of the treatment.
“It is always good to start out one time a week to assess, and then as time goes by you can reassess and change it to every other week or whatever you need,” Marnie Zigelman, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle. “There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but depending on your presenting problem, and the therapists approach, you might have a better idea.”
“Can I Talk To You Outside The Office?”
If you want to reach out to your therapist in between sessions, then you’ll need to know what their policy is in terms of calling them, texting, or sending emails.
“This is important to know what the boundaries are for the client and therapist outside of session,” Zigelman says. “Does the therapist charge a fee for contact outside of sessions? If so, what are the rules about that. It’s also good to know if [you] can reach out even if it isn’t deemed an emergency.”
“Can You Explain That To Me?”
Aromatherapy and therapist imageShutterstock
The stuff discussed in therapy can get confusing and messy at times, especially if your therapist is bringing up concepts you aren’t too familiar with, or making complex connections. So if you ever feel confused, Zigelman says, feel free to ask for clarification.
This is all part of creating a strong patient-therapist relationship, but will also help you get more out of therapy since you’ll be learning and digesting the information as you go. Don’t ever be afraid to speak up.
Therapy is, after all, largely what you make of it. Your therapist plays a big part in that, of course. But it can also be helpful to ask questions, and make sure you’re getting the most out of the experience.
Deciding to begin psychotherapy to address your mental health concerns or personal struggles requires a significant investment of time, money and mental energy.
I’ve talked at length about how to find a good psychotherapist, understanding how your therapist thinks, and things you can do to fully engage in therapy as treatment proceeds. I’ve also discussed the many benefits of therapy, its effectiveness, and how to get the most out of online therapy. Please be sure to check out these articles.
Now I want to dive in a little deeper to go over several helpful questions you should ask a potential therapist before formally agreeing to begin treatment.
Most therapists will offer a free, brief initial consultation by phone, online or in person. This contact is the time to ask your questions so you can make a more informed decision about whether to begin therapy.
What should you ask?
Below, I’ve listed 20 important questions to ask your new therapist. While some of this information can often be found on the therapist’s website, feel free to ask them for further details and clarification. It may be possible to email the therapist your questions prior to the initial consultation so they have a chance to review them and prepare their answers.
Training and Qualifications
- What is your education and training? What degree did you obtain?
- The therapist should have a Masters or Doctoral degree in a mental health field which provides intensive training in psychotherapy, such as psychology, psychiatry, psychiatric nursing, or counseling. Degrees may include MD (psychiatrist), PhD or PsyD (psychologist), MSW (social work), MA or MS (counselor). Other common credentials are APRN (psychiatric nurse practitioner), LPC (licensed professional counselor) and MFT (marriage and family therapist).
- What kind of license do you have?
- Do not see a therapist who is not licensed. A “certification” in some form of therapy is not a license.
- How long have you been providing therapy? Are you still under supervision?
- It’s common and expected for newly licensed therapists to still be under supervision for a year or two. Don’t immediately rule out a therapist with less experience. Conversely, seeking a therapist with more experience can often be beneficial.
- How much experience do you have in treating my issues and concerns?
- The therapist will ask you to offer a brief overview of the issues for which you are seeking treatment. Understand that not all therapists are trained to treat all issues.
What to Expect in Therapy
- What type of therapy do you recommend for me? Is it effective for treating my concerns?
- Research has shown that specific types of therapy work better for specific issues. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one effective treatment for a variety of concerns, including depression and anxiety. The therapist should be able to describe one or more recommended therapies for your issues and speak to their effectiveness.
- How long will therapy last?
- The length of therapy can’t always be predicted. However, therapists will have some general idea of the typical course of treatment for many concerns. Brief therapy may be only 6 – 12 weekly sessions, while other therapies may take a few months or longer.
- How long is each session? How often?
- Many therapists hold 50-minute weekly sessions, but some may offer longer or more frequent sessions. Also check on available days and times to make sure therapy fits your schedule.
- What will therapy sessions be like?
- Some therapies are highly structured, with skill training and homework. Other formats may be more supportive and flexible. Some therapies are more present-focused while others delve more directly into family and relationship history. Therapists also differ in how much direct advice and feedback they may provide.
- Is medication an option?
- It’s quite common for medications to be used along with psychotherapy, as there’s considerable evidence this combination can be quite effective. Some therapists (primarily psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners) can prescribe medications. Other therapists will typically assist you with a referral to a colleague who can prescribe the medications.
- Are we a “good fit” to work together?
- This question will have to be tailored to your circumstances, but it gets at the issue of checking in regarding any important personal characteristics about you or the therapist that can affect the therapy relationship. In other words, it may be imperative for you to make sure your therapist fully affirms your ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age group, faith, or any other specific quality, value or belief that is important to you. Don’t hesitate to directly state your needs relating to this “fit” between you and the therapist.
- What are the fees for therapy? Is insurance accepted?
- This can sometimes be complicated. If the therapist is in the “network” of providers for your health insurance, this usually equates to a more affordable “co-payment” (the amount you pay for each session). If the therapist is “out of network,” it’s possible your insurance may still cover a part of the fee. Other therapists do not accept insurance, so you pay the therapist the entire fee. Many therapists are willing to be somewhat flexible about their fees, particularly if you have financial hardships. Don’t be afraid to ask for a lower fee or to inquire about possible referrals to lower-cost therapy providers.
- Is therapy offered in person? Online?
- Since the pandemic, most therapists now offer online services, but be sure to check. If in-person sessions occur, find out about office location, parking and other on-site details.
- How are cancellations or missed appointments handled?
- Find out about procedures for notifying the therapist when you need to cancel an appointment. There can sometimes be a fee if you fail to attend an appointment or cancel without sufficient advance notice.
- Does the therapist have after-hours availability for crises?
- Some therapists will have arrangements to contact them after hours if you are in crisis. Others will provide alternative resources such as local 24-hour crisis lines.
Don’t be discouraged by the length of this list of questions. Just as you would ask several questions when purchasing a home or car, selecting a skilled therapist also requires getting enough information to make a good decision. Psychotherapy is effective in the hands of a competent therapist, so please take the time to do a little research before embarking on this potentially life-changing experience.
Here’s a question: What additional information is important to consider when you are evaluating potential therapists? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter or Instagram, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend.