What questions to ask when looking for a therapist
Only about half of Americans diagnosed with major depression receive treatment for it, according to a 2010 survey supported by the National Institute of Mental Health. There are a wide variety of factors for that shocking number, including cost, availability, and access, but it certainly doesn’t help that finding a good therapist is a challenging and anxiety-producing situation.
To lessen that apprehension find out whether a therapist’s professional style and approach will help you achieve your goals before you lie down on the couch for your first full session. Think of hiring a therapist like buying a new car or house—you have to do your research. And the more research you do, the more comfortable you’ll feel during therapy, and the more likely you’ll be to stick with it.
Most therapists offer a 15-minute consultation where you can explain your objectives and ask them questions. Here are the top questions you should ask a therapist before making an appointment.
Basic Questions to Ask a Prospective Therapist
It’s often uncomfortable to talk with a physician about cost or their credentials—but both those topics can have a momentous effect on your ability to continue to seek treatment and the trust you place in your provider. Plus, any therapist worth their salt will be happy to openly discuss pricing, insurance, and other practical matters. After all, if you’re stressed about making payments, you’re only adding to your troubles.
How long have you been practicing?
What licenses and certifications do you have and which professional organizations do you belong to?
How much do you charge? What are you sliding-scale options?
How many clients have you had with similar circumstances to my own? When was the last time you worked with someone similar to me?
Describe your ideal patient.
Is This Therapist a Good Fit?
It’s important to find a therapist that meshes with your personality. If you’re nervous about starting therapy, perhaps a more guided approach to meet your goals is best. Or, if you’re a therapy veteran, maybe a direct route is appropriate. And don’t be afraid to ask a potential therapist about their own personal experiences with therapy—a good therapist believes in their field and knows what it’s like to be the one lying on the couch.
What are your strengths and limitations as a counselor?
What is your general philosophy and approach to helping? Are you more directive or more guiding?
Have you been in therapy yourself? How recently?
How often do you seek peer consultation?
Setting Goals For Therapy
Congratulations! You’ve passed the first hurdle—seeking help. That’s a big deal, and you should be proud of yourself. Now you need to jot down some goals to discuss with your potential therapist so you can continue to jump those hurdles going forward. By creating goals, you increase the value of your time in therapy and set yourself up for success!
How often would you anticipate seeing me? For how long?
How do you set up counseling goals? What are they like? What is success for you?
What is typical session like? How long are the sessions?
What kind of homework/reading do you give patients?
How do I prepare for my first session?
Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato is a freelance science, health, and environment reporter based in Washington, DC, whose work has appeared in National Geographic, NPR, Scientific American, The Atlantic, Newsweek, and Nature.
Finding the right therapist for you can seem overwhelming. If you’re wondering what questions to ask a therapist before your first session then you’re in the right place!
In this article we will discuss:
-Section 1: Financial Questions
–Section 2: Worldview Questions
–Section 3: Qualifications Questions
-Section 4: Setting Expectations
-Section 5: Pharmacology Questions
Let’s jump right into these questions to ask a therapist!
Section 1: Financial Questions To Ask A Therapist
One of the first things you will want to know about a prospective therapist is what their pricing structure is and if they will accept your insurance provider.
You don’t want to move forward through the entire process only to discover their payment structure does not work for you. Here are the questions you should ask to discover if a therapist’s billing is right for you.
Question 1 – “What Insurance Providers Do You Accept?”
Just because a therapist accepts insurance, doesn’t necessarily mean they will accept your insurance.
Your specific insurance plan may also require you to meet a deductible before coverage kicks in.
Some providers may be out-of-network with all insurance companies, sometimes referred to as private pay. If you have out-of-network benefits, you may still be able to get some reimbursement for appointments. Make sure to ask the therapist if they can provide statements for you to submit to your insurance company.
If pricing is important to you, then get these questions out of the way up front. You may also need to check with your insurance company to determine your coverage for mental health appointments.
Question 2 – “What Is Your Cost Per Session?”
It’s important to know both how long a session is and what each session will cost (as well as any other additional fees). Some therapy sessions can go up to 90 minutes while others will only be 45 minutes.
This question is especially important if you are paying out of pocket for therapy. If this is the case, you may also inquire about the different payment plans or funding support that may be available to you.
Question 3 – “Am I Charged For Cancellations Or No-Shows?”
Sometimes life happens and it’s nice to know if you’re going to have to pay extra for it in advance. Make sure you ask about the cancellation policy.
It is also great to ask if your therapist requires a deposit from you to schedule your first visits. This is often common practice for first time visits.
Section 2: Worldview Questions To Ask A Therapist
Like everyone else, therapists can take a number of different approaches to therapy.
These therapeutic approaches can be heavily influenced by the (1) worldview of the therapist (2) their preferred therapeutic style (3) or the counseling theories they most align with.
Depending on these factors, some therapists will be a better match for you than others.
Below are a few basic questions that will help you determine if a therapist will be the right match for you.
Question 4 – “What is your philosophical approach to therapy?”
There are many types of therapy and many different philosophical positions that influence the way therapy is done.
While one potential therapist may use a combination of approaches others might use one approach exclusively (such as cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT).
Get out a pen and paper and jot down some notes when your potential therapist answers.
If you don’t understand any of the terminology the therapist uses, don’t be afraid to ask them for further clarification.
Below are a few common acronyms you’re likely to hear and what they stand for. You can learn more about each one by clicking on the link provided.
CBT – Cognitive Behavior Therapy
DBT – Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
MBCT – Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
To learn about the pros and cons of each type of therapy, you can check out the article Types of Therapy –> HERE
Question 5 – “Are you religious? How does this affect your approach to therapy?”
While some people may be more open to having a therapeutic experience that implements their religious beliefs into their sessions, others will not.
By identifying what religious worldview a therapist is coming from, you can better determine if they will be a good fit for you.
That said, unless specified most certified therapists are trained not to impose their worldviews or beliefs on clients.
If you find that a therapist has radically different ideas about beliefs than you AND implements their religious ideas into how they practice therapy, you may need to decide whether or not they will be a good fit for you.
Question 6 – “How do you determine my counseling goals?”
While the majority of therapists incorporate and track your progress towards goals in their therapeutic plan, some therapists and some types of therapy don’t always focus on an end goal.
For Example: If the therapist talks about a “psychoanalytic approach” you will find that this has to do with Freudian psychoanalytic theory. This type of therapy is known to last longer than other types of therapy. Some Freudian psychotherapists may expect your sessions to last a year or more, and may recommend meeting more than once per week. The goal may be insight more generally.
This may be good for those who are looking for insight into their issues or more understanding on how the past has influenced them. However, this approach tends to be less practical and structured than behavioral approaches.
On the other hand, behavioral approaches like CBT and DBT tend to be more goal-oriented.
Question 7 – “What are the indications that therapy is effective?”
Similar to setting goals, it’s important to know what indicates that therapy is progressing successfully.
It may be important to ask how your therapists will help set goals and measure your progress toward the resolution of those goals.
After some amount of time, you will be able to assess if it’s in your best interest to continue working with the therapist.
Section 3: Qualification Questions To Ask A Therapist
If someone is going to have access to the inner workings of your mind, it seems wise to be sure they know what they are doing.
Ask your potential therapist what type of licenses and certifications they attained.
Question 8 – “What specialty licenses and certifications do you have?”
Below we have provided you with a cheat sheet to know what all the acronyms mean. You may see letters including, but not limited to:
LP: Licensed Psychologist
LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker
LPC: Licensed Professional Counselor
LMHC: Licensed Mental Health Counselor
LMFT: Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
LCADAC: Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor
PhD: Doctor of Philosophy
PsyD: Doctor of Psychology
To learn more about licensing credentials and what they mean, check out this article –> HERE
Question 9 – “How many years of experience do you have as a therapist?”
This question is fairly straightforward. It’s always nice to know that you’re working with someone with a few years of professional experience.
Question 10 – “How much experience do you have in treating concerns like mine?”
Most therapists are highly trained in treating the most common struggles like anxiety and depression.
Other, more specialized treatments for issues like bipolar disorder, dissociative disorders, personality disorders, and others may require someone with more specialized training or experience treating your specific concerns.
Taking the extra time to find someone who specializes in treating concerns like yours can sometimes save you a lot of time, money, and effort in the therapeutic process.
Question 11 – “Is your treatment of choice evidence-based?”
In the early days of therapy, much of the counseling given was based on theory. More recently, there have been countless studies done to see which types of therapy create the best outcomes in clinical settings.
It may be worthwhile to decide if evidence-based treatment styles are important to you.
Section 4: Setting Expectation
Question 12 – “How many times a week do you usually meet with clients?”
Most therapists work with your schedule but there are some therapists who may want to meet more frequently than your schedule will allow.
It’s helpful to know upfront if the therapist offers sessions during hours that will work with your schedule.
Question 13 – “How long will therapy last (weeks/ months, etc.)?”
While the duration of therapy can differ greatly depending on the issue at hand, some therapists may prefer you come to therapy much longer than others.
Does the therapist you’re speaking with want you to come to sessions for 6 months or do they have a plan to resolve your concerns in 6 weeks? Asking this question upfront can help set expectations.
Question 14 – “Is therapy offered in your office or online?”
Since COVID-19, many therapists now offer services online. Ask your potential therapist if this is an option and if they feel it’s right for you.
It’s also nice to know if in-person therapy is even an option as some therapy firms do not currently offer this service.
Question 15 – “What should I expect from a typical session?”
This question will help you to quiet some of your own anxieties about therapy.
If you have never been to counseling before, it’s common to feel a little out of control. It can also be nerve racking wondering what’s going to happen during your first visit.
Don’t let this get the best of you! Ask what you can expect during your first session so you can put your mind at ease.
Below is a great video resource to help set expectations -> Your First Therapy Session | What to expect
Section 5: Pharmacology Questions To Ask A Therapist
Question 16 – “Are you qualified to prescribe medications?”
Many approaches to counseling may involve medication. In fact, sometimes it is the combination of therapy and medication that is most effective for treating an issue. It’s always good to know if your therapist is qualified to prescribe medication or if you will have to be referred to someone else to have this done if the need arises. In New York State, medication is typically prescribed by psychiatrists (MDs), psychopharmacologists, and nurse practitioners.
Question 17 – “Do you feel I may need to consider medications?”
Get to know the therapist’s basic approach to treating the issue you are struggling with. Different therapists may take completely different approaches when it comes to medication.
Question 18 – “How long does your average client stay on medication?”
Many people feel it’s important to know how long they should expect to be on medication if it’s prescribed to them.
For Example: In the case of depression, some therapists may prescribe 6 weeks of antidepressant medication to help a client through the most difficult part of the healing process and then wean them off as they are able to get back on their own two feet.
Other therapists may take a more permanent approach to prescribing medication for depressive disorders. While other disorders may require permanent medication.
Understanding all of this in advance can help you set better expectations.
Question 19 – “What’s the process to come off medications?”
If your therapist feels you should be on medication for a limited amount of time, it’s good to be familiar with the process of being taken off any medications and any potential difficulties that may arise during this process.
That about sums up our list of the 19 Revealing Questions To Ask A Therapist Before Your First Session 
What questions did you find most helpful?
Let us know in the comments!