- Most therapists will offer a free initial consultation, so it can be beneficial to prepare questions to find one who's a good fit.
- It's best to see a therapist who's licensed. This does not include being certified in some form of therapy.
- A therapist should fully affirm your ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or anything else important to you.
Deciding to begin psychotherapy to address your mental health concerns or personal struggles requires a significant investment of time, money, and mental energy.
So I thought it could be beneficial to go over several helpful questions you should ask a potential therapist before formally agreeing to begin treatment.
Most therapists will offer a free, brief initial consultation by phone, online, or in person. This contact is the time to ask your questions so you can make a more informed decision about whether to begin therapy.
What should you ask?
Below, I’ve listed 20 important questions to ask your new therapist. While some of this information can often be found on the therapist’s website, feel free to ask them for further details and clarification. It may be possible to email the therapist your questions prior to the initial consultation so they have a chance to review them and prepare their answers.
Training and Qualifications
What is your education and training? What degree did you obtain?
The therapist should have a Master's or Doctoral degree in a mental health field that provides intensive training in psychotherapy, such as psychology, psychiatry, psychiatric nursing, or counseling. Degrees may include MD (psychiatrist), PhD or PsyD (psychologist), MSW (social work), MA, or MS (counselor). Other common credentials are APRN (psychiatric nurse practitioner), LPC (licensed professional counselor), and MFT (marriage and family therapist).
What kind of license do you have?
Do not see a therapist who is not licensed. A “certification” in some form of therapy is not a license.
How long have you been providing therapy? Are you still under supervision?
It’s common and expected for newly licensed therapists to still be under supervision for a year or two. Don’t immediately rule out a therapist with less experience. Conversely, seeking a therapist with more experience can often be beneficial.
How much experience do you have in treating my issues and concerns?
The therapist will ask you to offer a brief overview of the issues for which you are seeking treatment. Understand that not all therapists are trained to treat all issues.
What to Expect in Therapy
What type of therapy do you recommend for me? Is it effective for treating my concerns?
Research has shown that specific types of therapy work better for specific issues. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one effective treatment for a variety of concerns, including depression and anxiety. The therapist should be able to describe one or more recommended therapies for your issues and speak to their effectiveness.
How long will therapy last?
The length of therapy can’t always be predicted. However, therapists will have some general idea of the typical course of treatment for many concerns. Brief therapy may be only 6-12 weekly sessions, while other therapies may take a few months or longer.
How long is each session? How often?
Many therapists hold 50-minute weekly sessions, but some may offer longer or more frequent sessions. Also, check on available days and times to make sure therapy fits your schedule.
What will therapy sessions be like?
Some therapies are highly structured, with skill training and homework. Other formats may be more supportive and flexible. Some therapies are more present-focused while others delve more directly into family and relationship history. Therapists also differ in how much direct advice and feedback they may provide.
Is medication an option?
It’s quite common for medications to be used along with psychotherapy, as there’s considerable evidence this combination can be quite effective. Some therapists (primarily psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners) can prescribe medications. Other therapists will typically assist you with a referral to a colleague who can prescribe the medications.
Are we a “good fit” to work together?
This question will have to be tailored to your circumstances, but it gets at the issue of checking in regarding any important personal characteristics about you or the therapist that can affect the therapy relationship. In other words, it may be imperative for you to make sure your therapist fully affirms your ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age group, faith, or any other specific quality, value, or belief that is important to you. Don’t hesitate to directly state your needs relating to this “fit” between you and the therapist.
What are the fees for therapy? Is insurance accepted?
This can sometimes be complicated. If the therapist is in the “network” of providers for your health insurance, this usually equates to a more affordable “co-payment” (the amount you pay for each session). If the therapist is “out of network,” it’s possible your insurance may still cover a part of the fee. Other therapists do not accept insurance, so you pay the therapist the entire fee. Many therapists are willing to be somewhat flexible about their fees, particularly if you have financial hardships. Don’t be afraid to ask for a lower fee or to inquire about possible referrals to lower-cost therapy providers.
Is therapy offered in person? Online?
Since the pandemic, most therapists now offer online services, but be sure to check. If in-person sessions occur, find out about office location, parking, and other on-site details.
How are cancellations or missed appointments handled?
Find out about procedures for notifying the therapist when you need to cancel an appointment. There can sometimes be a fee if you fail to attend an appointment or cancel without sufficient advance notice.
Does the therapist have after-hours availability for crises?
Some therapists will have arrangements to contact them after hours if you are in crisis. Others will provide alternative resources such as local 24-hour crisis lines.
Don’t be discouraged by the length of this list of questions. Just as you would ask several questions when purchasing a home or car, selecting a skilled therapist also requires getting enough information to make a good decision. Psychotherapy is effective in the hands of a competent therapist, so please take the time to do a little research before embarking on this potentially life-changing experience.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.