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Key Questions to Ask When Choosing a Therapist

Background and credentials aren’t the only things to consider when hiring a therapist. There are other key factors to take into account. These factors center on an important piece of the therapeutic puzzle: having a good fit between client and therapist.

“A therapist who is effective and compatible with one person may not be with another person,” according to authors Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D, Lisa Firestone, Ph.D, and Joyce Catlett, MA, in their book Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice.

The authors suggest asking yourself these questions during and after your first session:

  • Did you feel heard by the therapist?
  • Did you feel like the therapist respected you?
  • Was the therapist condescending?
  • Did the therapist seem like a real person or were they playing a role?
  • Was the therapist passive or active in the session? What do you like better?
  • Does it seem like the therapist will be open to hearing about all your feelings, including frustrated feelings relating to them?
  • Did the therapist have a positive outlook on life?
  • Did you feel better or worse after the session?
  • Did you feel comfortable with the therapist?
  • Does this seem like a safe place to express your thoughts, concerns and feelings?

6 Comments to
Key Questions to Ask When Choosing a Therapist

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  1. I agree with everything you said except the “do you feel better or worse after a session?” question. Sometimes when clients are dealing with difficult issues and bringing them up in session, they may feel worse afterwards. That in no way reflects whether or not the therapist is a good fit. As therapists we can not be expected to have every client feeling good at the end of every session.

  2. I agree with Lena in regard to the “better or worse” question. I also found questions to be somewhat redundant. For instance: the first and sixth questions both relate to being heard, while the second and third queries appear to me to collide. (If the therapist is condescending, they are not being respectful). Overall, I feel this addresses a very important issue in working with a therapist. Many clients do not realize that they have the right to interview this professional. They do not need to settle for the person behind the first door they walk through.

  3. I found this to be a good article. (The Firestones, btw, also offer webinars that are quite good.)
    I also agree with the tweaking to their questions that is offered by two commenters already, Lena and Jeri. The questions could easily be re-organized so that the 6th one fleshes out the first one in one question, and similarly the 2nd and 3rd.
    It strikes me as a relevant handout to have in a therapist waiting room. All therapists should be willing to be evaluated by such standards and it would show ‘good faith’ with clients to have such available as a handout.

    What I found appalling really was your first link to other related articles, which led to two embedded 1990s articles by Grohol that had been updated, one in 2004 and the embedded one in 2011. Both of them come across as extremely outdated and/or biased views of what various credentials among therapists mean. The initial link is to an article that does not even mention MFTs, LPCCs, etc., only refers (and dare I say condescendingly) to “MA counselors” with no specification of exact degrees, qualifications, etc. In the embedded article, there are misrepresentations of the distinctions between LCSWs and MFTs. (The article is still old enough that commenters refer to MFCCs, which has long been superseded by MFT as the degree name in current programs.) I also found his generalization about the importance of choosing someone with 10 years practice to be needing a vital caveat. It is far more subjective and related to individual style, personality, and orientation. If I were you, I would stop linking to those old and poorly updated articles until they were revamped by, ideally, a co-authored review where someone from each licensing degree co-edits the appraisal.

    Personally, I am in the process of licensing exam prep after 5 years total of MFT preparation – an intense 1-1/2 year MA followed by 3-1/2 years of 3,000 hour supervised internship in the practice of therapy. I sit in exam-prep workshops alongside those going for LCSW degrees and have done so in various groups so far, seeing from fellow exam-preparers and their questions and comments that there is no basis for any sense that LCSW training is superior to MFT training. The profession, imho, is harmed by having these “received notions” of hierarchy of quality of therapy in terms of which degree was obtained.

    • p.s. I might also note that over the past 5 years, I have had supervisors and/or professors who are LMFTs, LCSWs, and PsyDs. That includes having LMFTs and LCSWs collaborating as co-supervisors of group supervision. I am also certain that each of them would be at the very least uncomfortable and most likely also appalled at the in-print distinctions still being made that suggest one of those degrees is superior to another in terms of quality of training and background. And as a supervisee, I can attest to finding no such superiority. The degrees and training bring potentially (not necessarily) somewhat different orientations or frames of reference but one no more valid or useful than the other. And frankly a couple of professors who were PsyDs were among the less useful in their perspective at least in teaching. But I also work with PsyDs who I respect tremendously, as with LMFTs and LCSWs. It’s just that there’s no superiority of one training over another. The old hierarchy seems to have been a 20th century set of perceptions that warrant retiring in the 21st c. That’s my point.

  4. I think asking a therapist about their effectiveness in general, and how they attend to client progress is key.

    I track my effectiveness and am open about it. Great tool for professional development, and more importantly, it contributes towards improved client results.

    Transparency and accountability have been overlooked too long in this field, and I’m glad to see that starting to change.

    I like the questions from Dr Barry Duncan’s book, “What’s Right With You”:

  5. Thank you very much for this article. It was exactly what I was looking for and more! I feel much more comfortable calling a new therapist, now.



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