In some folk’s minds, therapy conjures up the picture of Tony Soprano sitting on a couch wrestling with his ‘gangster-related’ demons with the fine Dr. Jennifer Melfi. But therapy isn’t quite like that.
Therapy is a commit by both the therapist and the client. It’s a mutual agreement to listen to and share in honest, open and authentic communication.
You’re there to get the help you need and you therapist’s job is to use all of his or her training and experience to see that it happens.
10 questions to ask when choosing a therapist
But choosing the right therapist can be intimidating.
So with that in mind there are 10 questions you really should ask ANY therapist before you decide to “lay down on the couch”:
1. What is your specialty?:
It’s important to know what a therapist has the most experience and training in. You may need someone for anxiety but whose specialty is eating disorders.
Even though several counseling needs are related or have some cross-over, it’s important to know up front.
Note: Be wary of therapists who claim they do all things for all people.
2. How many people have you seen with the same problem/issue as mine?:
You’re not asking the therapist to divulge anything in confidence, but rather a number. It’s in your best interest to find a therapist who has a history of treating same or similar disorders.
I even suggest you ask about their success rate. Even though there’s no spot on accurate way to discern success rates you can tell a great deal by their response and reaction to that question.
3. What is your treatment philosophy?:
The quality of your relationship with your therapist is one of the most important factors in whether you will benefit from therapy.
Knowing a therapist’s treatment philosophy can quickly help you determine if you all will be a good fit. This ‘fit’ is far more valuable than what is in their ‘bag of tricks.’
4. What do you charge?:
Price is always something to know upfront. Do they submit your sessions to the insurance company?
Another important piece along these lines is, how much access do the insurance companies have to your files? You’d be surprised how many insurance companies refuse to reimburse unless they have ‘proof’ of treatment or illness.
5. Do you have a confidentiality disclosure statement?:
Many ethical therapists will have this readily available as a standard course of business. Part of ‘talking therapy’ success is the comfort and assurance that what you reveal will never be shared with anyone.
Of course, there are the legal exceptions pertaining to harming yourself or another.
6. What are your credentials?:
Is the therapist a counseling psychologist, clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, or marital and family therapist?
- Counseling psychologists specialize in the problems of daily living, working in community settings such as schools, clinics and businesses.
- Clinical psychologists are trained to treat people who suffer from more severe mental disorders such as clinical depression, eating disorder and anxiety.
- Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the treatment of more severe emotional and mental conditions, and prescribe medications.
- The social worker is trained in the social context of people’s problems.
In the last several years, there has been a blurring of practices with regard to the above professionals so it is best to get this information from the start. And, knowing if they are licensed to practice is obviously good, too!
7. How do you define the therapeutic relationship?:
This is a great question to ask. You’d be surprised at the convoluted answers I’ve heard to this one. Anywhere from, “I decide what is best for you,” to “I will need at least 6 months to determine what is going on with you.”
Your decision to proceed with therapy should depend on how the therapist answers this question. The answer should be along the lines of, “I am here to help you understand and figure out what is keeping you stuck, causing worry or preventing you from enjoying your life. Then, together, we will determine what the best course of action for you is.”
The ability to trust your therapist to work as an ally is the key to therapy that works.
Note: if your instincts, for whatever reason, tell you it’s not a fit, find a different therapist.
8. When and how do you evaluate my progress?:
Always expect that throughout the therapeutic process you will have defined periods of reflection and discussion about the progress you’re making. It’s important to do this as you are the best one to gauge what’s working or not working.
It’s also a good time to ask questions about the process of therapy, not necessarily related to your specific issue but to help understand that you’re on the right track.
9. Can I read my file at any time?:
Some therapists have policies against sharing their ‘notes’ with their patients or clients. It’s usually not a matter of secrecy, but one of the client not understanding the therapist’s thoughts as written.
Some therapists will gladly share their impressions with the client when asked. They see it as another way to help the client reach greater understanding.
10. Will you make a referral if requested?:
If a therapist balks at this question beware. No respected professional would object to referring a client upon request.
Of course, there should be a good reason, which needs to be discussed in an open manner. The one thing the therapist will be looking for is if you are a ‘therapist hopper,’ which means you go from therapist to therapist until you find someone who supports what you want to hear. In the long run, this will do you more harm than good.
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