Bret A. Moore Psy.D., ABPP

The Camouflage Couch

5 Questions to Ask Your Therapist

Don't be afraid to ask

Posted Nov 30, 2014

Psychotherapy is typically a one-way street when it comes to asking questions. Depending on the therapist’s style, you may experience a series of direct and unambiguous queries in rapid succession, or less obvious ones strategically placed throughout the hour that leave you wondering, “What’s this guy trying to get at?” Regardless, you are on the receiving end of the question-and-answer exchange.

But there is one exception to this therapeutic standard operating procedure: You ask the questions in the beginning.

Seeking the services of a psychotherapist is no different from hiring a handyman to fix your roof or buying a washing machine at Home Depot. You need to be sure that what you’re getting will meet your needs. And the best way to figure this out is to ask questions.

Here are five questions you should ask your therapist during your first session:

What’s your theoretical orientation? Not all therapists are the same when it comes to how they view your problems and their approach to getting you better. Some focus on childhood issues; others are concerned with the here and now. Some are directive and require homework; others see themselves as guides helping you navigate the winding roads of your psyche. Finding a fit with your style and personality is important.

How much experience do you have treating people like me? You wouldn’t hire an electrician to fix your roof. So why hire a therapist who doesn’t have experience treating people with issues similar to yours? And if the therapist gets defensive when you ask this question, find another therapist.

What type of training do you have? There are differences in the education and training of therapists. Some are doctors with a variety of clinical training, but most have master’s degrees. The truth is that there isn’t much difference between the two groups when it comes to effectiveness in psychotherapy; it’s more about their experience and interpersonal style.

How long will this take? Psychotherapy isn’t always a quick process, and it can be difficult to know how much is enough. But it’s reasonable to ask your therapist how long treatment for X, Y or Z typically takes. The days of free-associating on a couch for the better part of a decade are history.

What is your cancellation/no-show policy? It may seem trivial, but knowing the consequences of a missed appointment is important. Insurance companies don’t pay for no-shows, and some therapists will bill you if you don’t cancel within 24 hours.

*This article was previously published in Dr. Moore's column "Kevlar for the Mind", which is published by Military Times.