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When you’re meeting with a new therapist for the first time, things can get overwhelming fast. You likely only have an hour, and somehow, you have to decide whether or not you want to see this person again. However, finding a therapist you connect with is the key to healthy therapy, so it’s worth having a list of questions to ask a potential new therapist during your consultation session.
As someone who has gone into so many initial consultation sessions and immediately forgotten everything I wanted to ask them, a list like this could be crucial. Seriously—I’ve gone into sessions with a goal in mind, but instead ended up casually assuring my potential new therapist that everything in my life is mostly fine. It’s not a great system.
To make sure we all get the most out of our future consultation sessions (myself included), I reached out to actual therapists to get their opinions on the best questions to ask during that first hour. Keep this list of questions with you when you see a new therapist, and feel free to adapt it to your specific needs if needed.
Ask About Fees First
It might seem a bit awkward, but according to New York-based integrative psychotherapist Alena Gerst, fees and payment should be the first thing you discuss with a therapist, probably before you ever step foot into their office. “As obvious as it sounds, it's important to find out a potential therapist's fee structure early in the conversation. Some therapists post their fees on their websites or online profiles, but many do not,” she says.
“It would be so disappointing to go through a consultation and get excited about working with a particular therapist, only to learn at the end of the conversation that they don't accept your insurance and you cannot comfortably afford their fees,” she continues. “Don't be afraid to ask up front what their rates are, what insurance panels they are on, and how they accept payment. “
Bring Up the Issues You'd Like to Address
Anna Yam, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and founder of Bloom Psychology in San Diego, recommends asking what their experience is treating whatever it is you’d like to address in therapy. For example, you can say something like, "What has been your experience treating anxiety?"
Their response can give you a sense of how comfortable they are discussing their experience, as well as how well they distill complex ideas into easy to understand terms. Then, it'll show you what therapeutic methods or approaches they use. "Their response can also give you a peek into their communication style and interpersonal manner. Are they engaging? Are they warm and approachable? Do they sound competent?," Yam says.
Research Their Technique Before Making a Decision
If you ask your therapist about their experience with the issues you'd like to address, they may tell you about their chosen techniques. Once they do that, it's helpful to research that specific technique thoroughly before making any final decisions about your treatment. Relationship and psychosexual therapist Sara Nasserzadeh, Ph.D suggests telling them about your issue and asking what their approach is in general, as well as to your specific situation. "Then go educate yourself about that approach to see if that feels like a good fit for you (techniques may include CBT, Gestalt, psychodynamic, etc),” she says. Each of these techniques are extremely different, and one that works for you may not work for someone else, and vice versa.
Ask About Treatment Style Too
According to Gerst, you should also see if your therapist plans on giving you homework—because yes, that’s a thing. “Ask the therapist what their style is. Do they sit mostly in silence, compelling you to talk more?” she asks. “Or will they probe a topic with a lot of questions?" Decide what works best for you and see if that's something the therapist does as part of their treatment style.
Similarly, Gerst recommends finding out how often your therapist recommends you come in for sessions. “Do they require a specific number of sessions? How often do they want to see you? Embarking on therapy is a commitment of time and expense to yourself. If you think you may connect with a therapist, it is important to know going in what their expectations are," she explains.
Ask About Availability
According to Nasserzadeh, this issue is often brushed under the rug when it comes to therapist compatibility—but it’s important. Your schedule needs to mesh with your therapist’s, and if it doesn’t, then there’s a problem. “If availability matters to you, see if they are quick in responding to your phone calls and emails (for me a good response rate is 24 hours during the week and 72 hours if you are contacting them on a Friday),” she says. “Go with your own judgment and what works for you.”
While finding a new therapist can feel a bit like dating—asking the right questions, finding the right chemistry, pure luck—it’s worth it. The benefits of finding someone specific to your needs far outweigh the annoyances of dealing with the wrong ones, and these questions will streamline the experience even more.