Choosing a therapist is a very tricky business. Personalities must mesh and there must be some agreement on the purpose of the process and how to proceed.
1. How do you work through your own issues?
This is not the same as asking what the therapist's issues are. That would be TMI (Too Much Information) and would put the focus on her instead of on you, which a good therapist will not allow to happen. But asking how they work through issues is a reasonable question. If they deny having any issues, RUN. Everyone has issues, that includes therapists. If they are not self aware to know that they have issues, what they are and how they are addressing them, how are they going to help you become more self aware?
2. How do you deal with religious issues in therapy?
This is not the same as asking what the therapist's religion is. Again, this is TMI and puts the focus on them. What you really want to know is how they are going to work with your religious beliefs in therapy. Some appropriate ways are:
- They clearly identify the religious philosophy they practice in the first appointment and tell you how they plan to incorporate that philosophy into their clinical practice. For instance, a "Christian counselor" might bring prayer and forgiveness into sessions and interpret behavior using a biblical perspective.
- They do not bring their religion into the session and work solely from your paradigm. If you are Muslim, they work from the teachings of Islam. If you are Christian, they work from within that framework. If you are an atheist, they do not bring up spirituality or religiosity.
Some inappropriate ways in which therapists may deal with religious issues is to be working from a certain religious philosophy and not identify themselves as such. Another inappropriate way is to fail to address the issue with you and to bring their personal religious philosophy or dogma into the session without your permission during subsequent sessions. A counselor or therapist should not use the counseling session to proselytize their faith without informing you up front of their intention to do so and having your consent. This is completely unethical. They should also not disparage, deny or in any way disrespect your religious beliefs.
3. How do you help people with therapy (or counseling)?
If they give any type of answer which indicates they believe they will fix you, RUN. Therapy should be about helping you find your own way, not about the therapist demonstrating what a great healer they are. You should discover how strong and intelligent you are, not how great they are.
4. I would like a brief explanation as to what I can expect to happen in my sessions.A therapist should be able to tell you the types of techniques they will utilizing and the theoretical basis of therapy which they employ.
5. How will my confidentiality be assured?
It is completely appropriate to ask how your files and information are stored and where. Who has access to them. How will the therapist handle it if your mother or your ex-husband call and ask about you? If you are in the middle of a custody battle for a child or a divorce, what will happen if the other side subpeonas the therapist's records?
6. What happens when I have a crisis on the weekends or on holidays?
Does the therapist have an after hours number or is there someone on call during these times? If not, who should you call or what services should you access?
7. How much do you charge per session?
Do not be shy about money. You are procuring the services of a professional and he should be able to tell you exactly what sessions cost.
8. How long are sessions?
Sessions typically run from 45-50 minutes in order to allow the clinician 10-15 minutes to document the session.
9. What are my treatment options?
You have a right to know other methods available by which your symptoms or issues could be addressed whether it be with medication, lifestyle changes, dietary changes, or alternative healing methods. The therapist should be willing to discuss the pros and cons of each treatment modality to the best of their knowledge as well as the pros and cons of talk therapy.
10. What could have caused my condition (e.g., depression, anxiety, stress disorder) to develop? How common is it? Could it have hereditary roots? How is it related to my age, lifestyle, gender, current medical condition, or a recent occurrence or set of circumstances in my life?
Different therapists have different opinions and viewpoints about the causalities of symptoms and behaviors. What they view to be the cause of a behavior will determine how they treat it.
The therapist is not a physician (unless they are a psychiatrist, but they are still not practicing general medicine) and should not be dispensing medical advice. However, they can make you aware of any knowledge they have of how certain lifestyles or situation can affect you. They should also be able to tell you the differences in how symptoms are manifested in men vs. women, in different ages and in different circumstances.
If you suspect a possible medical cause, please have a complete physical with your medical doctor before contacting a therapist. If your therapist suggests a potential medical cause they may refer you for a complete physical before proceeding.
11. How likely is it that my symptoms will return in the future? What can I do to help prevent that from happening?
Your therapist is not a psychic and cannot foresee the future or all possible outcomes. However, they may be able to provide you with possible scenarios or situations which might provoke your symptoms to return. They should also be able to provide you with assistance in developing coping skills which will allow you to deal with a reoccurrence of symptoms.
12. Are there any alternative treatments (e.g., special diet, acupressure, massage therapy, biofeedback, vitamin/mineral regime, yoga, exercise program) that would complement my recovery program and help me feel better faster?
Most therapists are aware of other practices which will help in psychological healing. No therapist is an expert in every possible intervention which might help, but they should be fairly well versed in helping you help yourself.
13. Can you think of anything more that I should be asking or considering?
This is an excellent question I wish more people would ask. Many times I am aware of things which might be helpful they might not be aware of. An open ended question such as this allows the clinician to provide answers to questions you might not have thought of.
14. When my family or friends ask how they can help me with my recovery, what things can I suggest?
This is a great question that any question should be happy to answer. Support systems are crucial in healing and determining how to request help and what type of help would serve you best is important.
15. Is there a video, book or any other printed literature that contains useful information about my symptoms and recovery plan?
This is another good question. Often, therapists have a list of resources for self education on various issues. If your therapist frequently has no answer for this, I would have to wonder how well read they are on the topic. Books, videos and other literature recommended by your therapist should take into account your personal belief systems. Once again, recommending literature to a Muslim which has a heavy Christian message would be highly imappropriate unless the therapist addresses this in advance.
16. Are there lifestyle changes I can make that will speed up my recovery? Would I continue these changes just until I begin to feel better, or would they need to become a permanent part of my everyday routine?
This is an excellent question which I wish more clients would ask of me and their medical doctor. So often, there are simple but powerful changes they can make in diet and habits which can affect not only their mental health but their physical health, yet no one ever tells clients or patients of this self care. The ability to care for yourself and heal yourself not only exponentially increases the likelihood of success, but empowers you to take care of yourself. A therapist should be happy to talk to you about this and have answers ready which are sensible and make sense to you.