The therapist-client relationship is a unique bond based on trust, safety, collaboration, and communication. It’s appropriate to ask your therapist questions beyond the logistics of fees and scheduling. Here are some interview questions to consider when you attend your first session, if not before:
1. What is your philosophy?
Whether through their training, educational background, or personality, therapists often connect with a particular theory (or multiple) that informs their work. You could ask, “What’s your theory?” But asking about a philosophy will give you a much richer response—for instance, some therapists will focus on thoughts and how they affect your feelings, and some will focus on feelings and how they affect your thoughts. Some emphasize childhood experiences while others are more focused on the present. Many therapists will ask about your family system, and some might focus on you as an individual. Asking this question will reveal your therapist’s style and approach.
2. Do you have relationships with specialists who could also support me?
Some clients specifically tell me that they are not interested in psychiatric support, but others want medical and therapeutic treatment. We all have different needs, and it certainly helps to know details about a specialist before you make the appointment. If your therapist can offer you information about trusted psychiatrists, physicians, and other local professionals, it speaks to both their reputation within the health-care community and their commitment to providing quality, holistic care with your best interests in mind.
3. How do you prefer to communicate outside of sessions?
Snail mail? Blogs? Newsletters? Phone? Therapists have different ideas about correspondence outside the office—some may prefer only phone calls, and some might check in with you via email. While email is not completely secure, its ubiquity makes it a useful tool for scheduling and updating between sessions. Some therapists may offer Skype sessions for times when you’re not able to come in to the office, and so it’s always helpful to ask if this is an option.
4. How will I know I’m getting my needs met?
Many clients share that they previously saw other therapists who spent most of the sessions talking and "playing expert." These clients often walked away wondering what exactly they were working toward, and the process felt random and disorganized. Therapy is an investment in your life and future, and it should be a purposeful endeavor. Setting goals with your therapist is an important first step so that your progress can be assessed along the way. It should be collaborative, not prescriptive.
5. Do you understand, and are you comfortable with multicultural issues?
Feeling valued and understood is crucial to productive therapy. It’s OK to ask your therapist about their familiarity and comfort with your demographic and to present your concerns upfront. Working with a therapist who does not share your cultural background can be intimidating, but it can also be an enriching experience. Your therapist does not have to look like you, sound like you, or share your background to meet your needs. Your therapist should, however, be willing to learn about your culture and what it means to you, meet you where you are in your identity development, and pull in helpful information from their own background and skills.
It's important to give a therapist a few sessions. It can feel strange to disclose personal information to a new person, yet, over time, it can be a meaningful release, offering insight you would not otherwise have. Always reflect upon your experience after the first few sessions and ask yourself questions such as: Did I feel heard? Was the session confusing or straightforward? Did I feel respected?
Check Psychology Today's directory of therapists for a professional near you.
© Megha Pulianda, MS, LPC-I