Jeff Guenther, MS, LPC on Sep 16, 2018
Illustration by Brandon Hrycyk
Assuming you’ve done some research and found a therapist you think would be a good fit, you’re now ready for your initial consultation (for more one what to look for, check out Part 1 of this series). As I said in Part 1, you should shop around for a therapist before choosing one. I would recommend making a short list of at least three therapists to have a consultation with. The vast majority of therapists will be glad to set up an initial consult with you to determine if you’d be a good fit. The consult may be a phone call for 10 to 30 minutes. Or it could be in person for up to an hour. Many consults are free, but some therapists ask for payment for their time. Check with the therapists on your short list to find out what they offer.
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A consult with a therapist is a short meeting to determine if the therapist would be a good fit for you. Consultations are generally pretty informal. It’s a chance to get to know each other. It’s also a chance for the therapist to get a sense of what your presenting problem is and make sure they feel they can competently treat you. A therapist has an ethical duty to refer you to other therapists that they think would be a better fit for you if they don’t feel able to treat you.
You should not expect any real therapy to take place in the consultation. Therapeutic work starts in the first full session after the consult. One of the most important parts of a consultation is that it gives the client a chance to ask the therapist some questions. As the client, you should feel empowered to ask the therapist any questions you have, especially if getting the answers will help you to feel more comfortable talking to the counselor. This article will focus on questions you may want to consider when speaking to a therapist for the first time.
Before we dive into all the questions you could ask your therapist during the initial consult (or whenever, really) you’ll want to check in with yourself during the meeting and right afterwards. It’s important to make sure you actually want to move forward with the therapist and there are some key things to consider before making that decision.
If you don’t get a good feeling overall, talk to other counselors until you do. If you keep feeling uncomfortable after speaking with multiple therapists, then it may just be you. Which is incredibly common and nothing to be worried about or ashamed of. Therapy can be nerve wracking and cause a fair amount of anxiety. Especially if you’ve never been to a therapist before. While you’re anxiety about talking to someone may not completely go away in an initial consult, you’ll want to feel a bit of a relief at the end of a conversation. Or at the very least, you’ll feel like it’s safe to talk about anxiety inducing topics.
It’s not just about the therapist figuring out if they can treat you. Can you sit in a room once a week and spill your guts to this person? You need to figure out if you think you’ll be able to tell them really vulnerable things.
Before you come up with a list of questions, it’s important to figure out what you need or want to know. Below are some questions that you might ask, to help get you thinking. But realize that anything and everything is on the table. You’re about to be completely honest and open with them (hopefully). That means you can ask them whatever you want about their lives. It may feel weird asking the therapist questions about how they work or who they are. We aren’t used to asking healthcare providers personal questions. But counseling is different than other types of healthcare. Counseling gets super personal. And because of that, clients want to feel like the relationship is more balanced and that the therapist shares things about themselves as well. As a therapist myself, I am always prepared to field any and all questions from my clients. So don’t be afraid to ask me anything.
DISCLAIMER: You should know that if the therapist doesn’t want to answer a question, they won’t. And they will likely tell you why they won’t. But they won’t get offended. I promise. You should also know that therapists are trained to leave their personal biases and beliefs at the door. So even if you don't get the answer you were expecting they are still a highly trained professional that might be a great fit for you.
So while you can ask anything you want, the following are some questions that you might think are important to ask in a consult. You probably won’t ask all of them. But you may want to jot down the ones that you feel might be important to you.
Ask yourself what’s important for you to know in order to create trust. It could be anything. It could be about the therapist’s beliefs and values. Or it could be about their hobbies and interests. For example:
The mental health profession is predominantly made up of white people. If you’re a person of color and you are seeing a white therapist, you should ask as many questions as possible in order to feel like the therapist is culturally competent. You might consider asking:
Same goes for a queer person that is seeking therapy from a heterosexual cis gendered therapist.
This is not an exhaustive list of questions. There are many more that you could ask and I’m sure you have ideas of your own. The important thing is that you come up with a list before you have your consult. And if you don’t have enough time to ask all your questions during the initial meeting, you can always email extra questions to the counselor afterwards.
Once you’ve visited with a couple of therapists and asked them all the questions that are important to you, you’ll have a much clearer picture of which therapist to choose. You are ready to schedule your first full therapy session! Next week, I’ll be diving into what to expect from the first few sessions with your new therapist.