Whether you’ve been considering therapy for a while or you’ve just gone through a big life change, finding the right therapist can be one of the biggest barriers to setting up that first appointment.
While it can be difficult to be sure someone's a good fit, there are some questions that you can ask upfront to make sure there aren’t any surprises as you dive into your sessions. There are also a few things to look for that can help you determine if it’s time to call it quits with your current therapist.
Signs you’re with the wrong therapist
While it isn’t your therapist’s job to tell you what you want to hear, therapists are people, too, and you could be with someone who isn’t a match for your personality.
“A good therapist should ask you questions that help you reflect on your experiences in a healthy way,” said Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind. “If your therapist seems disinterested in what you're saying, you aren't likely to learn from your experience.”
That said, learning and growing can be a long, difficult process. It can also be hard to know if this process is being held up by your therapist. Morin said that you should definitely feel as though your therapist is hearing you when you voice your concerns. If you don’t feel like they understand you, or if you experience hesitancy when opening up, it may be time to look elsewhere.
“While you might not necessarily want to share everything during the first appointment, you should feel comfortable sharing as you attend more appointments,” said Morin.
Questions to ask your therapist on your first visit:
If you’ve recently found yourself in the market for a new therapist, or if you’re looking to dive into therapy for the first time, it can be hard to know where to start. To find out exactly what you should be asking on your initial consult, TODAY spoke with Ali Mattu, a clinical psychologist and host of The Psych Show on YouTube, as well as Kati Morton, a licensed therapist who shares lots of mental health and therapy-based tips on her YouTube channel.
1. How much will each session cost?
First up: money. While not many people love to think about it, it is absolutely necessary to consider — especially when you’re looking for a therapist you may want to visit long-term. “Ask if they take insurance or how they charge,” suggested Morton. “This should be asked in case you need long-term treatment (so you know) that you can afford them.”
Mattu shared a few questions to ask upfront:
- How much will you charge me for the evaluation and treatment?
- How much will my insurance pay?
- What billing code will you use so I can ask my insurance how much is covered?
- What will each of us have to submit to my insurance?
2. What do you specialize in?
Especially if you are seeking out a therapist for a specific reason, it’s important to know that the therapist you choose has worked or trained with clients facing similar issues.
“Ask what their therapeutic specialty is and what training they have in that specialty,” said Morton. “For example, (if) the issue is an eating disorder, you want to ensure they have worked at a treatment center or do a lot of continuing education regarding eating disorders.”
Mattu said that explicitly naming what you’re facing and your goals can help, since so many therapists list their technical specialties (like cognitive behavioral therapy or psychodynamic therapy) online. This cuts through any confusion that you may have around the different theoretical approaches to therapy.
3. How will we work together to measure progress?
This, of course, doesn’t mean that you’re working toward a definitive point when all of your concerns will magically evaporate, but Mattu suggested discussing goals and milestones at the beginning.
“Clients/patients often have a hard time knowing if they're getting better and also when to end treatment,” said Mattu. “This sets expectations from the get go around how progress is measured.”
4. Can I contact you outside of our appointments?
This can feel like an awkward thing to bring up, but it’s much better to discuss before you actually have to deal with any feelings of trepidation around calling your therapist in the middle of a crisis. Specifically, Mattu suggested asking, “What are the boundaries around communication between appointments?”
“Boundaries often aren't addressed until they're broken, usually during a crisis, so I encourage people to set expectations at the very beginning,” says Mattu.
5. Will you assign "homework"?
Don’t be turned off by the idea of homework here. Instead, think of this as a way to make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck. Prep work for sessions could be as simple as taking a moment before you meet to think about what you want to discuss that day.
“This ensures you have follow-up care in between sessions, which can shorten the length of treatment,” said Morton. “It gives you action items to work on during the week, so you are working on yourself outside of the therapy session versus just 50 minutes a week while in session.”