Questions to ask therapist


The 14 Questions You Should Ask a Therapist Before Your First Appointment

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?

Join the conversation! Share Tweet

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.

6 Questions Everyone Should Ask Their Therapist

Finding the right therapist can involve almost as much energy and time as finding the right spouse. Instead of meeting for coffee, or appetizers and drinks, you’re spilling your guts inside a bunch of psychotherapists’ offices, trying to gauge whether all that notebook scribbling is going to translate into help or not. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, the important work of therapy can be delayed by months or years. Luckily, there are therapists like Ryan Howes, PhD, who are our tour guides inside the counseling walls. He’s like our concierge, equipping us with the right questions to ask so that we don’t spend years on the couch sitting across from the wrong notebook scribbler.

Dr. Howes (pictured on the left) is a board-certified psychologist in Pasadena, California, where he’s in private practice and is a clinical professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He writes the blog In Therapy for Psychology Today, as well as an interview column for Psychotherapy Networker magazine. In 2012, Howes and some of his students formed National Psychotherapy Day (September 25th), a day to demystify therapy and reduce the stigma surrounding both it and mental health issues. As part of that campaign last year, he held a storytelling event called Moments of Meaning, in which therapists told true (but non-identifying) stories of powerful moments from their own work.

“Therapists are eager to tell you about things that aren’t directly related to your question of whether or not they can help you solve your problem,” explains Howes. “They will tell you where they went to school, where they were trained, what modalities they learned, what they researched, and so forth.” Instead of asking for their resume, he recommends you ask these six questions, and explains why.

1. My problem is _______. How would you go about treating that?

This is pretty straightforward. Of course, you have to know what your problem is, but even describing symptoms would help. “My problems are insomnia, worry, and anger outbursts. How would you treat that?” Hopefully the therapist’s response will either resonate with your game plan or will make sense so you’re willing to adopt a new game plan. The most important thing is that therapists are able to describe their process in a way that you can understand it. If they present a flashy, jargon-filled approach that goes over your head, you can expect to feel similarly confused in therapy with them.

2. Some therapists are more comfortable addressing the immediate problem, while others want to focus on the deeper issue. Which are you?

Many cognitive-behavioral based therapies are focused on treating immediate symptoms, while deeper, psychodynamic-based therapies focus on the root causes of a problem. The preferred answer depends on your needs: If you need quick, immediate relief, you’ll gravitate to CBT, but if you’re willing to wait a while to reach a deeper insight, the psychodynamic theories are probably more your style. Again, the therapist’s ability to clearly communicate their approach is key here, even if they say they combine approaches.

3. Do you tend to lead the session, or follow my lead?

Another key distinction is whether a therapist is “directive” or “non-directive,” which is fancy talk for a leader or follower. Some therapists have an agenda for your session before you sit down: The gameplay is set, and you’re a passenger on this ride. Other therapists wait for you to set the agenda, either with a pre-determined topic or whatever comes up for you as soon as you sit down. Again, this is a matter of your personal style — directive appeals to some, while non-directive appeals to others.

4. What role does our relationship play in our work?

Some therapists view therapy as a laboratory: The problems you experience in the outside world will come up between us, and that’s a great opportunity to do important work. For others, therapy is more of a lecture hall — a place where you learn tools and tips to apply outside the session. It’s good for you to know which you’re stepping into. If you want to learn to confront people and want to practice that with your therapist, you’ll want therapy to be a laboratory. If you want tips for managing your OCD and just want therapy to be a resource for information and exercises, you’ll want the lecture.

5. What are your strengths as a therapist?

Not many clients ask this question, but I think they should. By asking, they’re inviting the therapist to make an honest appraisal of their strongest attributes, and at the same time asking them to point out what they believe are important therapist traits. If they say “my ability to earn fame and fortune,” well, you know what you’re getting into.

6. Have you been in therapy?

This may be an optional question for the most bold among you, but I think it’s a valid and important one. It’s essential for a therapist to spend a significant amount of time in their own therapy. In fact, as a therapist myself, I intend to be in therapy as long as I see my own clients. Why? Because it reminds us what it’s like to be on the other couch, because it helps me discern between my garbage and my clients’ garbage, because it models a lifetime process of constant introspection, and because I can learn things from my own therapist that may help my clients. You don’t need to ask specifics — or names and dates — but I think asking if a therapist has been in therapy is a legit question.

But your work is not over there. Howes thinks it’s even more important to have questions for yourself, such as:

  • How soon did you feel relaxed when speaking with the therapist?
  • Did you feel rushed to ask your questions, or were you able to go at your own pace?
  • Did the therapist seem to “get” your questions, or did they misinterpret or need to ask for several clarifications?
  • Did you feel like the conversation flowed, or was it clunky and awkward?
  • Did you understand the response, or was it filled with technical jargon or vague statements?
  • Imagine your deepest, darkest secret — could you imagine telling this person about it?

“Study after study shows that successful therapy depends on the quality of the relationship between the therapist and client,” Howes explains. “You’re much better off seeing a graduate student you connect with than a 40-year veteran and author with whom you don’t feel understood.”

In the end, he advises folks to go with their gut, much like you would with a blind date over coffee.

Join, the new depression community.

Photo credit:

How to Interview a Potential Therapist. Twenty Three Questions to Ask

While this list has 23 questions on it, you don’t need to ask all of them. However, this list should give you some ideas about what you could ask to get a better feel for a potential therapist. When evaluating, pay attention to the answers, and to how they answer the questions.

23 Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

1. Do you take my insurance?

This has become increasingly important, especially if you have no coverage for people who are outside your network. A potential therapist won’t be an expert on your individual plan – but they can tell you whether they are in a network with your insurance provider.

2. What license(s) do you have to be a therapist and how long have you been practicing?

There are many different types of therapists, such as social workers, marriage and family therapists, mental health or professional counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc., and each specialty has its own way of approaching therapy. (Learn more about the different types of therapists and find out which is best for you)

3. What experience do you have working with the types of problems I am experiencing?

Generally, having some experience or at least training in your problem area would be important.

4. What is your approach to doing therapy in a situation such as this one?

There are many schools of thought in the therapy community and the therapist may not be ready to say what they think will be best for you.

5. What has your success rate been with problems like this?

It’s useful to know how often therapy can help, but keep in mind that most therapists do not keep statistics the same way that a surgeon might. It is also common for a therapist to have some failures as well as successes, so listen for honest disclosure in how the therapist answers.

6. In working with a patient or client, do you tend to be more directive or more like a consultant to the patient or client?

There are times when having a directive therapist can be very helpful but there are also times when it is good to have more of a guide on a path and to be more in control as a client. Which do you need or want?

7. What types of things would you expect me to do between sessions, if anything?

This will help you understand what the therapist is likely to expect from you.

8. Describe to me your ideal client.

Does this sound like you?

10. What happens if I can’t make an appointment?

12. If I start having lots of problems between sessions, what are my options?

13. Are your appointment times flexible or will I get my own slot?

14. When you are away, what happens to my therapy?

15. Do you regularly make clients wait for their sessions or do they start on time?

16. Do you have an understanding of my perspective as a _______? (This could be based on gender, cultural, race, ethnicity, etc)

17. Do you do phone sessions if I need something at a different time?

18. If I wanted to bring someone else to a session, would that be a problem?

19 What would I have to do to be ready for the first session?

This could be your employer, parent or other family member.

21. What is not private and confidential about what we do?

23. Do you think you can help me?

This is really a key question as your trust in their belief is really important.

Finding a Great Therapist

Asking the questions on this list will give you a feel for a potential therapist. No therapist is the right person for everyone, so finding a therapist that you are comfortable with is really important. This will then help you begin on the journey to peace and wholeness.

10 Questions Your Therapist Wants You to Ask About MDD Treatment

When it comes to treating your major depressive disorder (MDD), you probably already have a lot of questions. But for every question you ask, there’s likely another question or two you may not have considered.

It’s important to remember that the client and therapist construct and direct the psychotherapy process together. Indeed, therapists prefer to use the word “client” rather than “patient” to emphasize the active role of treatment seekers throughout the course of care.

Here’s what a therapist wishes clients who have MDD asked during their sessions.

1. Why do I feel depressed?

The initial step in getting treatment for your depression should be a comprehensive assessment. However, this doesn’t always happen.

If you’re taking medication for depression, your provider has already determined that you meet the diagnostic criteria for depression (that is, howyou’re feeling). That being said, primary care providers often don’t have the time to do a comprehensive assessment on why you’re feeling the way you do.

Depression involves a disruption in neurotransmitter systems in your brain, particularly the serotonin system (hence the common use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, for medication). In addition, a number of other factors need to be discussed and should become part of treatment. These include:

  • thinking patterns
  • values and beliefs
  • interpersonal relationships
  • behaviors
  • other stressors that may be associated with your depression (for example, substance use or medical problems)

2. What do I do in case of emergency?

From the outset, it’s important to have an understanding of what the therapy process is going to look like. For many, this’ll mean one-on-one sessions with a therapist once a week, lasting from 45 minutes to an hour. The number of sessions may be fixed or open-ended.

Depending on your needs, other treatment settings include:

  • group therapy
  • intensive outpatient therapy, for which you visit a therapeutic setting multiple times each week
  • residential therapy, during which you live at a facility for a period of time

Whatever the case, it’s important to know what to do in an emergency — specifically, who you should contact if you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide outside of the therapy setting. For safety reasons, you should work with your practitioner to put in place a contingency plan from the outset of therapy.

3. What is therapy exactly?

If you’re considering psychotherapy, often simply referred to as therapy, it’s likely you’ll be working with a licensed psychologist (PhD, PsyD), social worker (MSW), or marriage and family therapist (MFT).

Some medical doctors perform psychotherapy, usually psychiatrists (MD).

The American Psychological Association defines psychotherapy as a collaborative treatment that centers on the relationship between the client and care provider. Psychotherapy is an evidence-based approach that is “grounded in dialogue” and “provides a supportive environment that allows you to talk openly with someone who is objective, neutral, and nonjudgmental.” It isn’t the same as advice or life coaching. That is, psychotherapy has received a great deal of scientific support.

4. Should I be in psychotherapy or counseling?

Today, the terms “counseling” and “psychotherapy” are often used interchangeably. You’ll hear some people say that counseling is a briefer and solution-focused process, while psychotherapy is long-term and more intensive. Differences come from the origins of counseling in vocational settings and psychotherapy in healthcare settings.

At any rate, as a client, you should always ask your care provider about their training and background, theoretical approach, and licensure. It’s critical that the therapist you’re seeing is a licensed health professional. This means that they’re regulated by the government and legally accountable, as any doctor would be.

5. What type of therapy do you do?

Therapists love this question. There is scientific evidence for a number of different approaches to therapy. Most therapists have one or two approaches they draw heavily upon and are experienced in several models.

Common approaches include:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on unhelpful thought patterns and beliefs
  • interpersonal therapy, which focuses on unhelpful relationship patterns
  • psychodynamic psychotherapy, which focuses on unconscious processes and unresolved internal conflicts

Some people may jibe more with a particular approach, and it’s helpful to discuss what you’re looking for in treatment at the start with your therapist. Whatever the approach, it’s critical for clients to feel a strong bond or alliance with their therapist in order to get the most out of therapy.

6. Can you contact my physician?

Your therapist should contact your prescribing physician if you have taken or are taking medication for depression. Medication and psychotherapeutic approaches aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that the combination of medication and psychotherapy corresponds to greater improvement in mood than medication alone.

Whether you choose medication, psychotherapy, or both, it’s important for your treatment providers, past and current, to be in communication so that all the services you receive work in conjunction with one another. Physicians should also be included in treatment if there are other medical services you’re seeking (for example, you’re pregnant or you plan on getting pregnant, or you have another medical condition).

7. Is depression hereditary?

There is strong evidence that depression has a genetic component. This genetic component is stronger in women than in men. A number of specific genes may carry an increased risk for depression, as well. That being said, no gene or set of genes “makes you depressed.”

Doctors and therapists will often ask for family history to get a sense of this genetic risk, but that’s only part of the picture. Not surprisingly, stressful life events and negative experiences also play an important role in MDD.

8. What should I say to my family and employer?

Depression can affect those around us in a number of ways. If there has been a significant change in your mood, you may feel irritable with others. You may also change the way you conduct your day-to-day life. Perhaps you find it difficult to enjoy time with your family and have had disruptions at work. If this is the case, it’s important to let your family know how you’re feeling and that you’re seeking help.

Our loved ones can be tremendous sources of support. If things have deteriorated at home or in your romantic relationship, family or couples therapy may be beneficial.

If you’ve been missing work or your performance has slipped, it may be a good idea to let your employer know what’s been going on and if you need to take some sick leave.

9. What else can I do to support my treatment?

Psychotherapy is the foundation upon which change takes place. However, the return to a state of happiness, health, and wellness takes place outside the therapy room.

In fact, research suggests that what happens in the “real world” is critical to treatment success. Managing healthy eating habits, sleep patterns, and other behaviors (for example, getting exercise or avoiding alcohol) should be central to your treatment plan.

Similarly, discussions of traumatic experiences, stressful or unexpected life events, and social support should emerge in therapy.

10. Why don’t I feel better?

If psychotherapy doesn’t seem to be working, it’s essential to share this information with your therapist. Early discontinuation of psychotherapy is linked to poorer treatment outcome. According to one group of studies, approximately 1 in 5 people leave therapy before completion.

It’s important to define what the course of your therapy will be from the outset of treatment. During any point in treatment, a good psychotherapist would want to know if things don’t seem to be working. In fact, regular tracking of progress should be a central component of therapy.

The takeaway

Asking these questions at the outset of therapy will likely be helpful in getting treatment moving in the right direction. But remember, more important than any specific question you ask your therapist is establishing an open, comfortable, and collaborative relationship with your therapist.

9 Questions To Ask A Therapist During Your First Session Together

By William Drake

Updated November 07, 2019

Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault

Scheduling your first therapist appointment brings you halfway to a better life. Asking for help is the first step toward improvement. Whether you deal with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or anything else, a licensed mental health professional will help. However, you may have some trepidation over what will happen at your first appointment. This article will cover helpful information to consider for your first session.

Learn More About What You Can Ask A Therapist During Your First Session


What to Expect in Your First Session

Just like a physical exam, you should come in ready to have an open and frank discussion with your therapist. In your first meeting, your therapist will need to assess you, which will eventually lead to a diagnosis and treatment plan. To do this, they need to get as much information as they can related to your condition. Keep in mind, most everything disclosed will be confidential. While that may or may not make it easier to open up, your therapist has been trained to know what questions to ask and when to listen. It can feel like a casual conversation, sprinkled with personal information that leads to a diagnosis and treatment plan. It’s important to be honest so your therapist has an accurate understanding of you.

Pre-Session Research-What Should I Already Know?

It’s common to feel nervous before your first therapy appointment, but you’ll likely find it much more laid back, calm, and less intensive than you may believe.

Finding a therapist doesn’t require a ton of research, but there are some necessary questions to ask before making your selection. Are they licensed and certified? What is their specialty? What insurance do they take? Most of these questions can be answered by the administrative staff or the therapist directly.


Nine Questions to Ask a Therapist Before Your First Session

Many of these questions will be more of a discussion than a direct answer.

  1. How often are we meeting? It’s important to know your availability and time commitment. Depending on your situation, your therapist may want to meet anywhere from three times a week to once a month. The first session will help determine how often your therapist feels you should meet, but they may have an idea beforehand. This number may change as the weeks go on and can either lessen or increase, but it’s good to understand the starting point.
  2. How long will therapy last? Depending on the mental health issue, a patient can come in for merely a few sessions or can be there for a much longer term. While it may be hard to gauge initially, it’s still an important question to ask.
  3. What resources are available outside of therapy? This question is more specific to your mental health issue, but it’s still important to know. Outside of the therapy sessions, is your therapist available by email or phone for emergencies or questions? Are there any hotlines you should keep on hand?
  4. What is the patient confidentiality policy? Your therapist will give you this information at your first session, but it’s important to know. It helps create a trustworthy space.

Learn More About What You Can Ask A Therapist During Your First Session


  1. What kind of therapy does your therapist practice? There are many different approaches to therapy-psychodynamic therapy, which involves delving into past experiences; cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which involves examining thought and behavior patterns; and a host of other approaches. Many therapists combine various methods. It’s a good idea to ask the therapist how they work before scheduling an appointment to get a sense of whether it’s right for you.
  2. How is the office run? How can you book appointments, and what happens if you’re running late or need to cancel or reschedule?
  3. What can I expect to happen in my session? Having a structure may or may not help, but setting expectations for what this hour of your life will entail is useful to know.
  4. If you’re doing family or couples therapy, are you going to be in sessions alone or always with your family? How will that work?
  5. What will progress look like? Therapy won’t fix everything overnight. It’s a process and a journey, and because it may happen in small increments, it can sometimes feel like it might not be working, especially if you’re viewing it as a patient. Ask your therapist what progress can look like. Discuss milestones to gauge that progress. Maybe a month in, reevaluate answers you gave at the first session and see how far you’ve come. It can be encouraging for the process and allow you to see the benefits of your work.

After this conversation, you and your therapist can then choose your goals and develop a plan to achieve them. It’s important to remember that some therapists are not a good fit, and if you feel like this is the case, feel free to speak with someone else. You know yourself the best, and having a good therapist you feel comfortable with will only help in the long run.

Online Therapy May Help

Scheduling that first appointment can feel intimidating, but taking the first step to therapy is truly a victory, and it doesn’t have to be unpleasant. BetterHelp can be of service through the advantages of online therapy. Online therapy may reduce the anxiety experienced in face-to-face interactions, and the hassles involved with finding the right therapist. Read reviews below for some BetterHelp therapists who will make your first appointment comfortable and convenient for you.


Counselor Reviews

“Aaron is a fantastic counsellor. He listens, appreciates and understands and every advice and task he gives me to do is very personal and specific to me and my needs. He makes me feel comfortable and relaxed and I feel completely comfortable opening up to him.”

“I was skeptical of BetterHelp and therapy in general. After my first call with Dr. Cox Lance I knew I made the right choice. She was patient and listened to my problems. She helped me identify my goals and ways to change my perspective on problems and annoyances I faced. Strongly recommend.”


Considering the questions discussed in this article is important preliminary work. Now it’s time to take this information and schedule your first appointment. The best is ahead! Take the first step.

In last week’s post, I talked about the abundance of psychotherapists available, especially in Santa Monica, the differences between disciplines (i.e. LMFT, LCSW, and PhD/PsyD) and the importance of approaching your therapist search a little like dating. And like with dating, it’s wise to have a phone conversation before you book that first appointment. Photos and websites are great, but you’ll want to get a feel for whom you might be meeting with and later entrusting your deepest thoughts and needs with.

Fortunately, most therapists offer a free phone consultation to determine if it’s a good fit (which of course includes fees and working out scheduling). So once you’ve gotten a few names and are ready to do your due diligence, what do you ask that therapist once you have them on the phone? What is appropriate and what do you say?

First off, before you pick up the phone, it can be helpful to peruse the therapists’ website to check out some basics. Typically you’ll be able to find their fees, check to see if they take your insurance (if you plan to use it), where their office is located, and some background information and specialties they have. Unless they offer a sliding scale, there’s not much sense in talking to a therapist who doesn’t take insurance and charges $200 if you prefer to use your in-network Anthem with a $20 copay.

Once you have a bit of info and decide to pick up the phone, just know that you shouldn’t have to guide the call! Typically, the therapist will be interested in learning more about you, why you are looking for a therapist, provide you with information and answer your questions.

Questions to Ask a Prospective Psychotherapist during a Phone Consult

Here are some questions you might consider beyond the logistics, when searching for a therapist or psychologist in Santa Monica or elsewhere.

  1. What’s your experience working with someone like me and what is your approach with X problem?

  2. What are your strengths as a therapist?

  3. How often would I be seeing you?

  4. Do you tend to focus on the immediate issue or look to deeper meaning and understanding?

  5. What happens if our therapeutic relationship is stalling or if you think I’m not making progress?

  6. Are you in your own therapy?

#6 may seem a bit odd, but therapists need to work on their own issues and have a deeper understanding of themselves in order to be effective with their clients. I personally would never see a therapist who was not also doing their own work.

Questions to Ask Yourself during a Phone Consult

Regardless of the answers you are getting, focus in on how you feel in relationship with the therapist during the phone call. As you’re moving through, there are some questions you should be asking yourself.

  1. Does it seem like the therapist is listening and genuinely trying to understand your situation?

  2. Does the conversation flow?

  3. Do you feel that you might be able to begin a more extended conversation with this therapist and start to open up?

  4. Is communication by the therapist clear or more cerebral?

  5. *Also, did the therapist respond to your initial call/voicemail in a timely manner?

I hope this helps you find the right therapist for YOU. If you are still feeling stuck, feel free to call me at (310) 422-8609 for a free 15 minute phone consultation. You can practice the suggestions in this article and I’ll be happy to provide you with guidance if you and I are not the right fit. The most important thing is that you get the help you need!

In my next post, we’ll talk about being a first-timer in therapy and some typical FAQ’s to help prepare you.

Keywords: therapist Santa Monica, psychotherapy Santa Monica, psychology Santa Monica, psychologist Santa monica, Social Worker Santa Monica, LCSW Santa Monica, psychotherapist Santa Monica, Therapy Santa Monica, finding a therapist in Santa Monica, Binge Eating Santa Monica, Trauma Santa Monica, EMDR Santa Monica

The one question you should always ask before picking a therapist

You have to ask questions to know if a therapist is the best one to help you. CBS

  • When you meet a therapist for the first time, it’s important to ask them some questions.
  • These questions can help you determine if this therapist is the right one for you.
  • Perhaps most importantly, you should ask what they specialize in so you can know if they’re able to help you.
  • You have to feel comfortable with the therapist you’re working with, so it’s OK to ask questions or even switch things up if things just don’t feel right.

Oftentimes when you decide to seek therapy, there’s a good reason for it. There’s something that compelled you to find that therapist and make that first appointment.

Maybe the therapist you ultimately choose to see came to you by recommendation or maybe you simply searched for therapists near you and picked one. You may know some baseline things about this person with whom you’re going to work closely or you might walk into your first appointment not really knowing much more than their name and the location of their office.

If you’re nervous about your appointment, you may feel as though you simply want to follow their lead. You’ve probably never been to therapy before, so you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. But it’s actually really important to ask some questions so you know whether or not this therapist is the right one for you to work with.

“Many clients are uncomfortable asking the therapist questions,” Jim Seibold, PhD, LMFT, told INSIDER. “Many feel intimidated to do so. It is important that potential clients understand the importance of asking questions. The research about professional connection has been very clear. If a client does not feel comfortable with the therapist, they are not likely to see much benefit in the process. Client success is directly related to the level of rapport they feel with the therapist.”

There are many questions you could, and perhaps should, ask your therapist the first time you meet them, there’s one that’s especially important.

Unsplash/Nik Shuliahin

You’ll want to know that the therapist is capable of addressing the reason why you came to therapy in the first place.

“The most important thing a client should ask a potential therapist is, ‘How can you help me and have you helped others like me or with this difficulty?'” Carol O’Saben, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist told INSIDER. In order to get a real response to this question, you’ll have to be able to articulate your reason for making the appointment and what you’re hoping to work on while in therapy. Once you give your therapist an idea of what you’re looking for, they’ll hopefully be able to share how they’ll address it.

“There are a lot of amazing therapists out there,” Whitney Hawkins, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist, said. “But, each therapist brings a different set of skills to the session. When I refer a client, I want to know that the therapist has worked with clients with a similar issue and are comfortable treating this diagnosis. You would not see a cardiologist for a sprain; do not see a therapist who specializes in infertility issues for substance.”

You want to feel comfortable not only with your therapist as a person, but also with the kind of care they’ll be giving you. It’s hard to do that if you’re not sure if they’ve ever worked with someone like you before.

“I think the answer to this question can help you figure out whether this person has the expertise necessary to help you work through your presenting concern,” Joy Harden Bradford, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, said. Feeling confident that your therapist knows how to address your concerns can help you feel more confident with the whole process.

If you’re hoping to address a very particular concern, you want someone with the necessary experience.

“It’s ideal to find a therapist who has worked with people experiencing similar symptoms or difficulties as you, especially if you are seeking therapy for symptoms of a disorder for which specific treatments have been developed and tested through research (such as PTSD, major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or borderline personality disorder),” Sophia Choukas-Bradley, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and the director of the university’s Teen and Young Adult Lab, said. “Child therapy, family therapy, and couples therapy also require specific expertise.”

And if doesn’t work out with your chosen therapist? They’re usually an easy fix. Hawkins said that most therapists will refer you to someone with the requisite expertise if they don’t have it themselves, but if they don’t volunteer to do that, you might want to ask. Chances are they’ll be able to do so relatively easily.

Whether you stick with that first therapist or not, knowing if they have the experience to work with you on what you’re hoping to address in therapy — and feeling comfortable — will make all the difference.

Questions to Ask Therapists About Social Anxiety

by Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D.
Psychologist/Director, SAI

These are some general questions to ask potential psychologists or therapists you are considering seeing. These questions may help you assess how much they understand about social anxiety and its treatment.

1. “How much of your practice is geared toward people with social anxiety?

Try not to ask “yes” and “no” questions.

2. “I have been told that my problem is social anxiety, but I am not sure. Can you explain to me what the major symptoms of social anxiety are?”

Make them tell you what the symptoms are so that you can check to see if they generally understand the disorder.

Then, because research has been clear that active, structured, solution-based cognitive-behavioral therapy is the only effective method of overcoming social anxiety, ask:

3. “What does changing cognitions mean?”

4. “How do you do this?”

5. “Do you have a GROUP operating for people with social anxiety?”

Any therapist who sees people with social anxiety is going to be running a CBT group if they are serious and truly understand how to help people overcome social anxiety disorder.

If they say you are going to “talk” about it, wait a minute. Talking about anxiety over and over again only reinforces anxiety and may depress us further. There is no solution to the problem if you “talk” about it every week. You need some good, concrete solutions to all the practical problems that social anxiety causes in your daily life.

Your therapist should have specific methods, techniques, and strategies all written down (printed) on paper that explain what to practice and why (the rationale behind it or how it will make you better over time).

For example, we have over 100 handouts at the Social Anxiety Institute that we use with our social anxiety people — every week we move forward, learn new methods of dealing with social anxiety, and gradually put these methods into practice, so that, over time, they are permanent changes the brain makes.

A potential therapist should also have a behavioral therapy group in operation.

You will probably begin with a group of 6-8 people with social anxiety and you will work on the activities (such as making introductions around the room, speaking in a small group, etc.) that cause anxiety, but only in a structured, step by step manner, so that your successes can build up gradually.

Our local group therapy day — we use an all-day Saturday approach — is one of my favorite days of the week, because even though I know people are a little anxious, they will be making progress and moving closer to their goal of overcoming social anxiety.

Everyone here who has “graduated from” the comprehensive CBT group(s) has moved up and forward with life. Some people have entered college or returned to college, others have taken a job, or a new job, whereas others have accepted a promotion to a level that fits their capabilities.

This not only happened to me, it happened to hundreds of others who have come through SAI as well.

Sometimes the going is rough, but if you find the right therapist, and stick with it, you will get better over time. Then, you can systematically and gradually overcome the whole thing.

The only hindrance to this is that we need more therapists who know what to do. The research is abundant, but the clinicians are few.

New Insurance Laws Mandate Mental Health Treatment to be on Par with Medical Treatment

How To Know If Your Therapist is Really Helping You

Many people wonder if their therapy is really helping them overcome their problem. Why? They often have therapists who tell them that they are doing well, but their therapist does not make clear to them what they mean by making progress. Does it mean facing your emotions, being able to talk about difficult things, or does it mean that you feel better and function better? Many people also like their therapist’s kindness and empathy, but feel guilty about questioning the outcome because their therapist is so nice even though they are not getting better. Unless you clarify with your therapist what a good outcome is at the start of therapy by mentioning your goals and agree what recovery looks like, then you may be likely to go to therapy for years without any noticeable improvement in your daily life. So, here are some hot tips for questions to ask to determine is your therapist is really helpful.

  1. How will you help me get better?
  2. Why are you using the methods or modalities that you use to help me get better?
  3. Is there any research that shows that the way that you will work with me is likely to help my problem(s)?
  4. How long will it take for me to expect noticeable improvement?
  5. What will I have to do to get noticeable improvement?
  6. What will you do if I plateau and do not see changes in my every day life?
  7. What do the steps to recovery look like?
  8. When do you refer patients for evaluation for medication? Other therapies?
  9. What do you think make it difficult for patient like me to recover?
  10. How will you measure my progress?
  11. Will you help me practice doing real life skills that are necessary for recovery, or will you just tell me what to do, or talk about what I should do?
  12. What will you do if I have difficulty doing your recommended home practice?
  13. Do you assign home practice?

Some things that suggest that your therapist may be less than helpful are the following:

  1. You complain about not being able to make any significant progress and your therapist tells you that you have to process the problem emotionally before you can expect any changes
  2. Your therapist talks a lot and does not have you talking and doing new things that help you make progress
  3. You like your therapist and think that they are really nice, but you never really get down to working on the actual behaviors that make your life difficult
  4. Your therapist tells you that your brain scans or blood values have improved but you do not feel or function any better
  5. Your therapist tells you that you are expecting too much and that your condition is chronic, or that nothing more can be done to help you
  6. Your therapist tells you that if you could get to the problem underneath your issues, then you would be able to recover
  7. You therapist tells you that you are in denial about the true issues underlying your problem and that you need to do more therapy in order to get better
  8. You have not experienced any noticeable progress after two month of treatment-most treatments that are effective should show some progress within several weeks to several months
  9. You disagree with your therapist’s ideas about the problem and their explanations do not make sense to you.

About the Author

Karen Cassiday, PhD, is ADAA’s past board president. Dr. Cassiday’s areas of interest are anxiety disorders in children and teens, social anxiety disorder, treatment-refractory OCD, and working with children and teens who suffer from both developmental concerns and anxiety disorders. Her research has focused on information processing in posttraumatic stress disorder and cognitive-behavioral treatment of anxiety disorders in children, teens, and adults.

10 questions to ask when choosing a therapist

Whether you get a recommendation for a therapist from your primary care doctor, a friend, or your insurance company, finding out about his or her background and training can help you feel comfortable with your choice. Here are some questions to ask before settling on a therapist:

  1. What’s your training (i.e., what certification or degrees do you hold)?
  2. How long have you worked in this field?
  3. What kinds of treatment or therapy do you think might help me?
  4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to treatment, including medications?
  5. How does the type of treatment you offer work?
  6. What are the chances that treatment will succeed?
  7. How soon should I start feeling better?
  8. How will we assess my progress?
  9. What should I do if I don’t feel better?
  10. How much will treatment cost?

It’s hard for a therapist to give precise answers to some of these questions, because no single therapist or type of treatment is best for everyone. But there are some general responses you should be looking for: The therapist should easily be able to describe his or her formal training and certification, for example. And while there’s a tendency for mental health professionals to offer only the particular type of psychotherapy that they do best, it’s a good sign if the person can describe the merits and drawbacks of different types of treatment, including ones he or she doesn’t do.

It’s also a good idea to ask your therapist to periodically check in with you about your progress. If you don’t feel there’s been improvement after several months, consider getting a second opinion.

Understanding Depression, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School, contains additional advice and recommendations for the diagnosis and treatment of depression. Purchase it here.

Image: iStock

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *