First Appointment With A Therapist? Questions You Should Ask
Making the decision to start working with a new therapist is a positive action for your mental health. However, the prospect of attending your first therapy session can be intimidating or may make you feel nervous. Asking your prospective therapist the following questions during your first therapy session is one way to feel more at ease, because they can prompt a conversation that can give you more information about what to expect from your therapeutic journey.
What to expect from your first therapy session
In your first therapy session, you'll typically complete initial paperwork, which may include answering basic therapy questions about your family history and personal health. From there, the provider is likely to ask you questions like why you’re seeking therapy at this time and what you hope to get out of it. They may inquire about some of the challenges you’re currently facing so they can have a better understanding of how to guide the initial and potential future sessions. For some, it may feel a bit awkward to open up at first, and it will likely take some time to build a strong sense of trust between you. However, it’s important to develop a good therapeutic relationship with your therapist over time, no matter which types of therapy you’re interested in.
That said, striving to be as open and honest as possible with your therapist during therapy sessions is likely to result in the greatest benefits to you since having all the information helps them provide the most appropriate treatment modalities. By discussing your concerns, including mental health problems or treating concerns, you can work together to achieve better outcomes.
Finally, know that finding the right therapist for you can take a bit of trial and error. It’s not unusual to try out sessions with a couple of different providers before finding the one you get along with most easily and who meets your needs.
You deserve to get appropriate, professional treatment for the challenges you may be facing, so don’t worry if it takes you a few tries to find the provider who suits you best.
Questions you might ask your first therapist
Going in with some open-ended questions to ask your therapist about their background, your situation, or the process can help you feel more in control and less nervous. Plus, by answering some basic questions in your first meeting, your therapist may be able to assuage some of your concerns and help you feel more at ease. You might have some questions already in mind that you’d like to bring up, or you can consider asking some or all of the common questions we’ve listed below.
How long have you been practicing?
This is just one of several different questions you could ask a mental health provider about their background. Learning about their training, certifications, and experience can help you feel more confident in their ability to support you. You might ask how many years they’ve been practicing, which master's or doctoral degree they hold and from where, what types of clients, situations, and/or disorders (e.g., bipolar disorder) they might specialize in, etc. Remember that it’s best to only meet with qualified, licensed mental health providers, such as a licensed professional counselor or nurse practitioners, so it may not be the right choice if you find out that your provider does not hold the appropriate licensing for your state. Most therapists will have the necessary credentials to offer quality care.
How often should we meet?
Your therapist may need more information before they answer this question, because it depends on your unique situation and why you’re seeking therapy. However, they can give you an initial recommendation and potentially revise it after a few sessions of learning more about you. They may suggest once a week, once a month, or really any other cadence that they think is best. From there, you’ll get to decide on the best frequency for you based on your needs, finances, schedule, and other life factors. Your budget may be a factor in how often you see your therapist as well. If you’re not sure whether therapy can fit into your budget, you might ask your therapist whether they offer a sliding scale payment system, in which payments may vary depending on your income.
What therapy methodologies do you use?
There are a wide variety of different therapy methodologies out there, each with a different approach and purpose. Asking your therapist which ones they specialize in and have experience in can be enlightening. For example, they might say cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a widely used and highly effective method for a variety of conditions and situations.
If you’re looking for someone who practices a specific type, such as exposure therapy for phobias, family therapist for relationship issues, or mental health treatment for conditions like child abuse, asking your potential therapist about their experience with that type can give you the information you may need to decide if they’re a good therapist for you. These types of therapy questions can reveal whether your therapist may be the right fit to help you address any issues you may be experiencing.
Can you help me achieve my goals?
Speaking openly about what you want to get from therapy can be extremely helpful to the mental health provider you’re meeting with. Your goals for therapy should be personal and specific to you—but other than that, they can be anything. For example, you might wish to build self-esteem, improve your communication skills, learn coping mechanisms for handling your emotions, or uncover strategies for speaking up for your needs. You might want help being more confident at work, more assertive in relationships, or more engaged with your family.
It may be helpful to spend some time before your first session thinking about what you want out of therapy, and perhaps even jotting down a few ideas. Then, you can explore them with your therapist and see what they say. They may manage your expectations for what therapeutic treatment can provide, refer you to someone else with more fitting experience, or let you know what the road toward achieving these goals may look like through therapy with them.
Do you think this is a good fit?
You may ask this question at the end of your first session, or after a few sessions, as part of the therapeutic process. The idea isn’t to find out whether your therapist likes you on a personal level, but to ascertain whether they think they’re the right provider for you. In some cases, unique topics or situations, such as sexual orientation, may come up that a particular therapist isn’t equipped to handle or treat. Or, they may feel you’d simply be better served by other therapists with a different specialty or more specific experience in the areas where you need support. If they do refer you to someone else, this isn’t a bad sign; in fact, it means they’re committed to making sure you get the best care possible. Many of the questions therapists ask during your first session are meant to determine whether they can offer you the care you deserve.
Can counseling accommodate my needs?
In general, therapy will be more effective for you if you feel comfortable with your therapist and comfortable in the therapy environment, especially during a typical session. If there are any accommodations you might need or benefit from, you can ask about these during or before the first session. For instance, some people might prefer to meet virtually instead of in person—more on this below. If there’s anything else you can think of that might make you feel more at ease during your sessions, letting your therapist know early on can help them practice therapy more effectively.
Choosing between online and in-person therapy
While therapy used to be conducted exclusively in person in a brick-and-mortar office, it’s now being widely offered online as well. Even family therapy and group therapy are often offered online now. Research suggests that both in-person and online therapy can offer similar benefits in most situations, so you can generally choose the method that feels best for you. For example, if you’re having trouble locating a provider in your area who has the experience or expertise you’re looking for, you can choose from a broader pool online. In addition, while some people find it comforting to meet with a therapist in person, others find it nerve wracking and prefer to speak with them online from the comfort of their own home. It typically all comes down to personal preference and convenience.
If you’re interested in trying virtual therapy, a platform like BetterHelp is one option to consider. First, you’ll be asked to fill out a brief questionnaire about your needs and preferences. Next, you’ll be matched with a licensed therapist in a matter of days. Then, you’ll be able to meet with them via phone, video call, and/or online chat to address the challenges you may be facing. For client reviews of BetterHelp therapists, see below.
“Aaron is a fantastic counselor. He listens, appreciates, and understands and every advice and task he gives me to do is very personal and specific to me and my needs. He makes me feel comfortable and relaxed and I feel completely comfortable opening up to him.”
“I was skeptical of BetterHelp and therapy in general. After my first call with Dr. Cox Lance, I knew I made the right choice. She was patient and listened to my problems. She helped me identify my goals and ways to change my perspective on problems and annoyances I faced. Strongly recommend.”
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
What things should you ask a counselor?
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