Five Questions to Ask Your Therapist

Getting the most of your treatment

Posted Nov 19, 2015

As cool days turn frigid and holiday shopping reaches a feverish pitch, many people are dealing with an uncomfortable reality: the holidays often spark immense stress. For some, this can lead to depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and even thoughts of suicide. If you're considering therapy to help you cope with these challenges, you're on the right track. But as with all other forms of medical care, no two therapists are exactly alike. Some are simply better at their jobs than others, while others are incredibly effective at treating one issue, but less effective at treating another issue.

Whether you're new to therapy, returning again, or have been with the same therapist for a long time, asking the right questions can help you get the most out of your experience. Here are five to consider.

What is Your Area of Expertise?

It's simply not possible for a therapist to be an expert in each of the thousands of mental health and relationship issues people face. For less common presenting issues, a counselor devoted to that specific specialty may help you get the most of your treatment.  Trauma counselors, for instance, know that standard approaches for dealing with fear might not work well for people with PTSD. Sex therapists are excellent at talking openly about sex, and unlikely to stigmatize non-traditional sexual practices. You deserve this sort of safe and judgment-free environment, and the only way to get it is to select a therapist who specializes in issues similar to those you face.

What Specific Approach Will You Use to Treat My Issues?

A therapist is not a paid friend. He or she is a trained professional whose job is to get you results. Ask your therapist what specific approach he or she will use to treat your issues, then research that approach to ensure you are comfortable with it. Your therapist may be capable of utilizing many different approaches and if you express a preference, this will ensure that your therapist utilizes the approach that is the best fit for you.

How Will We Track and Measure My Progress?

When you go to the doctor for high blood pressure, treatment is not considered a success until your blood pressure is lowered. Therapists should also come up with rubrics to track their patients' progress. Setting clear goals can help you determine whether therapy is working. Ask your therapist how you will measure progress, how long such progress will take, and at what point you will change course if your first approach fails.

What if Therapy Doesn't Work?

Therapy doesn't always work the first time. Sometimes you have the wrong therapist. Otherwise it's the approach to therapy or even your own attitude that is the problem. Knowing there is a contingency plan in place if therapy does not work can help you keep hope alive even in the earliest stages of treatment.

What is Your Education, License, and Experience?

Legally speaking, a therapist must be licensed in the state in which he or she practices. Ask also about your therapist's formal training to get a feel for what he or she can and cannot do. And finally, ask for information on your therapist's experience, especially the issues he or she treats. More experienced therapists aren't always better, but a therapist who has never treated an issue like yours before may not have the skills necessary to help you.

References:

Understanding psychotherapy and how it works. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-psychotherapy.aspx

Whitbourne, S. K., PhD. (2011, August 8). 13 qualities to look for in an effective psychotherapist. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201108/13-quali...