Finding a therapist who best meets your needs is key in your journey to mental wellness. These questions can help in your search.
Starting therapy is a big step in your journey toward mental wellness. Your therapist will play a key role in your healing process, and it’s important that you choose one who best matches your needs.
You’ll want to make sure your therapist has treated your specific condition before, understand what type of therapy they use, and know if they take a directive or less directive role.
A good first step is to consider what you are seeking therapy for. Is it for personal growth or to treat a specific condition? This consideration is a good place to begin to find a therapist with the appropriate background for your needs.
When choosing a therapist, asking the right questions is key to your healing journey.
During your search for a therapist, don’t be afraid to ask a few questions to ensure you’ve found a good match.
Therapy is a major investment of your time, money, and trust. So it’s best to connect with someone with whom you feel comfortable.
Here are six basic question you should ask when choosing a therapist.
Do you have experience treating my particular condition?
Not all therapists have experience treating every condition. Many specialize or focus on a few conditions. For instance, one therapist might focus on marriage counseling while another specializes in anxiety disorders.
If you need help healing from childhood abuse, then look for someone who specializes in trauma. If you and your partner are struggling with communication, then a family and relationship counselor might be the best choice.
What specific type of therapy do you recommend for my condition?
Ask your therapist how they plan to address your particular condition. Some therapists stick with one type of intervention while others use a combination of approaches.
For instance, if you experience symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it’s important that your therapist has specific training and experience in treating this condition. You should look for a therapist who’s treated OCD before and understands that it’s best addressed with exposure therapy rather than typical just processing or talking through difficult experiences.
Below are some commonly used types of therapy:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT, your therapist will help you identify and change negative and distorted thinking patterns. Research shows that CBT is effective for many conditions, including depression, eating disorders, and addiction, and leads to significant improvement in functioning and well-being.
- Exposure and response therapy (ERP). ERP is the first-line treatment for OCD and phobias. This intervention gradually exposes you to your fear until you no longer have a fear response.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). ACT increases psychological flexibility via mindfulness and behavior-changing strategies.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT helps you practice and accept change in your life. It’s effective in reducing self-harm and suicidal behaviors.
How long will therapy last?
It’s important to get an idea of how long you’ll be in therapy. Does your therapist want to focus on the short term or the long term?
Do they work with an 8-week program? Will therapy end once you’ve shown enough positive improvement? Or is it an indefinite period of time that can last as long as you’d like?
Make sure your therapist’s end goals match your own — as well as your budget’s limits. If you can only afford therapy for a couple of months, be sure to let them know.
Will you take a directive or less directive role?
Some therapists take a leadership role: They might give you specific goals and homework to do, and perhaps guide you through a specific program.
Others take a more passive role and put you in the driver’s seat: They allow you to guide conversation topics.
Which do you prefer? Do you want your therapist to take charge and challenge you, or would you rather sit in the driver’s seat and bring them along for support?
Is therapy offered online? In-person?
The COVID-19 pandemic brought many changes to our world. And one of them is the normalization of telehealth appointments. Today, many therapists offer phone and live video sessions, and many even prefer this platform.
Which do you prefer? Would you rather see your therapist in-person, or skip the commute altogether and meet online?
How do you establish therapy goals?
When you begin therapy, you might feel like you’re simply going to “feel better.” But feeling better may require some specific strategies. Perhaps you want to build better coping skills, reduce negative self-talk, learn to set boundaries, or learn new communication strategies.
Before you begin, it’s good to know what your end goals are. Will your therapist ask you to fill out a questionnaire? Will you and your therapist determine goals together as you go? Be sure to ask these questions, so you have an idea of where your therapy is heading.
Apart from these questions, take some time to think about what kind of therapist best fits your needs. Do you prefer an older, more experienced therapist, or perhaps someone younger who may practice new approaches?
Do you want someone from your same cultural background or are you open to anyone? Is it important that the office is close by or are you willing to commute a bit to get there?
Therapy is an important step in your wellness journey. It’s vital you find a therapist that’s a good match for you.
Your therapist will play a major role in your life. You’ll likely see them weekly for at least several months or even years. You may see your therapist even more than some family members — and you’ll likely be sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings.
Just as you’d choose a new friend or partner carefully, it’s important that you feel safe to develop a trusting relationship with your new therapist.
If you find you’ve made the wrong choice after a few appointments, first bring it up with your therapist to see if there is an issue or roadblock that could be resolved together. If it can’t be resolved, you might benefit from working with another therapist. Ultimately, you’re the one in charge.
If you’re looking for a therapist but aren’t sure where to start, check out Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health support.