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How to Interview a Prospective Therapist

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It’d be nice if finding a therapist you’ll like were as easy as finding someone to paint your house. In both situations, you have to shop around, but interviewing your potential counselors is a lot tougher than just reading Yelp reviews—especially because there’s no guarantee a therapist’s methods will click for you like they do for their other patients.

In finding a therapist, you’re looking to build a relationship with someone you can trust, and that trust isn’t easily forged. You have to be able to ask your counselor questions in order to understand if they’ll actually be able to help you.

Here’s a general overview of some of the questions you should feel comfortable posing as you play the field and search out a therapist.

Ask about their methods

Psychology is a broad field that encompasses a wide swath of methods and philosophies. While some might work for you, others will be less successful. Ask your counselor exactly how they do what they do. Are they firmly grounded in the Freudian tradition, or does their focus stray from talk therapy’s roots?

It might be good to familiarize yourself with the different kinds of psychological counseling you’re likely to encounter before you dive in to the hunt. Your counselor, for example, could emphasize a psychodynamic approach, which explores the relationship between your unconscious mind and your actions. Or they could use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which attempts to break down negative thought patterns. There are many, many, different approaches to talk therapy, but amid all of them, there’s a sort of beautiful freedom: It’s entirely up to you to choose the style that best suits your needs (provided you can find a therapist who practices it and takes your insurance).

If you’d like to expand on this question a bit more, you can ask what benefits you can expect to realize from a counselor’s particular methods, and the timeframe involved. For example, how does CBT change one’s relationship to obsessive thoughts? Someone who specializes in this approach should be able to explain this to you, and when you can expect to see notable progress.

Ask about their background

It’s more than OK to ask your therapist personal questions, and as a fairly easy ice-breaker, you might inquire about their credentials. Does it matter to you that your counselor has a PhD or another advanced degree? Do you want someone with practical social work experience? Asking them about what they studied and why—and how they’ve put their education to use—could better inform your decision-making process, and help you glean an understanding of how they might ultimately help you.

It’s also completely fair to ask about their level of experience. Given the often prohibitively expensive cost of treatment, you’d be doing yourself a favor—you wouldn’t want to pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year to work with someone who’s only just beginning to learn the ropes. There’s nothing wrong with working with a therapist with less experience, of course—but their fee should be commensurate with their experience.

Ask them if they think you’re a good fit

As mentioned previously, you’re building a relationship with a counselor, which means you have to work well together. It’s incumbent upon the client to clearly explain their needs and what’s troubling them. Once that’s been done, the therapist usually explains their methods and how they think they can help. If you feel there’s anything lacking, you’re within your rights to ask if the counselor thinks the two of you can have a productive relationship, based upon both your needs and the counselor’s methods.

Ask about cost, insurance, etc.

The least enjoyable, but unavoidable aspect of finding a counselor is discussing cost. Often you’ll find very good therapists who don’t accept your insurance—or don’t accept insurance at all—which means you’ll have to pay out of pocket, and weigh whether the financial burden is worth it for you. If you have insurance that a counselor accepts, however, it’s possible that your sessions will only require a minimal copay.

To that end, definitely investigate the financials before you jump in. If it turns out that a specific counselor’s services are too pricey, you can ask them to refer you to someone who you might be able to afford. After all, the goal of any therapist is to get people the treatment they deserve, financial constraints be damned. It’s more than likely that you’ll get a decent referral to another counselor who takes your insurance, or to a more comprehensive list of resources that might ultimately lead you to the right person.

Of course, this is just the starting point. When it comes to specific questions that apply to you and your personal needs, don’t be shy, and don’t let awkwardness keep you from speaking up. In the long run, you’ll be more than grateful you did.

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