15 Essential Questions to Ask a Therapist

Published on: 26 Jun 2019
Clinically Reviewed by Cynthia V. Catchings LCSW-S
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Updated 12/19/2022.

While therapy is an effective way to manage your emotional and mental health, it’s important to find the right therapist. Asking critical questions is a great way to vet anyone before you begin working together. Knowing which questions to ask your therapist can help guide you as you work to find your ideal match.

“As a new client, it is important to ask questions to the therapist to help decide if you are a good match. For example, what is the approach the therapist uses, what degrees does the therapist have, how many years of experience as a therapist, what experience with the presenting problem does the therapist have. You may also have questions regarding whether therapist has experience working with persons of your age, gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity or other demographic that is important to you.”

Talkspace therapist Olga Molina, LCSW, DSW

Background and Qualifications

Wondering what questions to ask a new therapist? Start with the basics — their credentials, background, and experience. Whenever you’re thinking about working with a new mental health provider, the following things are essential to discuss before your sessions start.  

1. What type of license do you have?

Therapy is a licensed profession. It’s important to confirm that any potential therapist you’re considering working with has the proper training and licensing to practice mental health care. There are many types of therapy licenses, such as:

  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
  • Licensed Psychologist (LP)
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
  • Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
  • Psychiatrist (DO or MD)

Note that the last two on this list are fully licensed medical doctors. Anyone who’s a PsyD, DO, or MD has been through medical school and is licensed to diagnose, treat, prescribe and manage prescription medications for their potential clients. 

Therapists can’t prescribe drugs, something worth noting if you’re unsure what type of mental health care professional you need. That said, many times different therapists will work together with psychiatrists or other doctors to offer the best care and ensure someone gets the right medication if needed. 

2. How long have you been practicing?

It’s always a good idea to ask mental health care providers how long they’ve been working in their field. You don’t necessarily need to rule out a therapist if they have limited experience, but this information can be one factor in determining if they’re equipped to provide you with the help you need. 

3. Do you have experience treating patients with concerns similar to mine?

When you’re thinking about questions to ask a new therapist, you definitely want to take your personal needs into consideration. While most therapists have experience treating issues like anxiety and depression, some might have limited experience with other mental health conditions and concerns. Ideally, you want to work with a professional who’s skilled in treating the condition or concerns you’re seeking help for. 

4. What is your area of specialty?

Therapists are trained to treat a variety of mental health conditions, but it’s not uncommon for them to have a specific area of focus, specialty, or extreme expertise. Common specialties for therapists include:

  • Addiction 
  • LGBTQIA+ issues
  • Trauma treatment 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Loss and grief
  • Adolescents and teens 
  • Couples counseling 
  • Family issues
  • Self-worth issues
  • Depression or anxiety 

Practical Issues

There are several practical or basic issues you’ll want to have a clear understanding about before you start therapy. Some of these include things like online options, availability, how cancellations and insurance work, and what happens if you need medication as part of your treatment. 

5. Do you provide online services?

It’s becoming more and more common for therapists to offer online services. Online therapy platforms can be hugely convenient, especially if you have a busy schedule. If the thought of seeking therapy virtually appeals to you, make sure you add this inquiry to your list of questions to ask a therapist.

6. When are you available?

Some therapists have more standard office hours, but many will accommodate less conventional times, like later in the evenings or on weekends. 

Confirm that the prospective therapist you’re considering provides services at a time that works for you, and remember that changing therapists is not a bad thing. You can also ask if they offer any sort of after-hours treatment for mental health emergencies. 

7. How do you handle cancellations or missed appointments?

When you’re coming up with questions to ask your therapist, don’t forget about policies on missed appointments and cancellations. Things you want to know about before moving forward include notice requirements for canceled appointments, what (and how much) cancellation fees are, and options for rescheduling a missed appointment. 

8. Do you accept insurance?

If your health insurance provider covers therapy, be sure to check if the therapist takes your insurance (and is in network). 

Even if a professional doesn’t accept your insurance, they may offer solutions to make the cost of therapy easier to manage, such as payment plans or sliding scale fees (where your cost is determined by your ability to pay). 

9. How do you handle medication?

Studies show that many mental health conditions, including depression, are most effectively treated through a combination of medication and therapy. 

Remember that only certain professionals, like psychiatrists or other medical doctors, can prescribe medication if they believe it’s needed. A therapist can refer you to a doctor who can write prescriptions, but they can’t prescribe anything on their own. This doesn’t need to be a deal breaker, but it’s worth a conversation so you can know what to expect if medication becomes a part of your treatment plan ahead of time. 

Expectations for Therapy

Having clear goals before you enter therapy will set you up for success. That said, it’s also important to have healthy and reasonable expectations about the process. Knowing the following is key. 

10. What types of therapy do you offer?

Different therapists use a wide range of methods and techniques when treating patients. Many types of therapy are available, and certain methods can potentially provide better results than others. 

For example, much research, including an extensive meta-review of nearly 500 studies, has consistently shown that types of CBT therapy can effectively treat depression and a range of other mental health conditions.

When you ask about the treatment styles a therapist offers, you should find out if any specific type of therapy can be more effective for your concerns. Ask the therapist what therapy they’d recommend for you, why they believe it’s a solid course of action, and even possible other options in conjunction with therapy like learning how to get a therapy dog.  

11. How long are your sessions?

Most therapy sessions are between 40 and 60 minutes long, but there are some therapists who offer shorter or longer sessions. When you’re coming up with questions to ask a new therapist, think about how long you’d prefer each session to be. 

12. How often would we meet?

Depending on your needs, a therapist may suggest weekly, biweekly, or monthly treatments. Asking about the frequency of treatments can help you estimate the cost of therapy and determine how long it might take for you to see progress. 

Current research shows that about half of all patients need between 13 and 18 therapy sessions to see improved symptoms. 

13. How do you measure progress?

While it’s true it can take time to see results from therapy, it should still be clear that you’re making progress. Find out how the therapist measures treatment efficacy along the way. Ask them about the steps they would take if you didn’t seem to progress on your treatment plan. 

14. How do you set goals?

Setting goals and objectives is one of the most valuable ways to track progress in therapy. While working towards goals can be challenging, it can also help you change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors, understand triggers, develop new coping skills, and build healthier relationships with the people in your life. 

When deciding on questions to ask a therapist, you should ask how they handle and track goals. You can even see if there are any goals or objectives they’d recommend that you work towards. 

15. What can I expect during my first session?

If you’re considering therapy, you can ask a therapist to share with you more about what your first session would be like, and what to expect from therapy as a whole. 

Meeting with a therapist for the first time and learning how to start therapy can be intimidating, but talking about the process ahead of time can help you to prepare for your first appointment, alleviating some of the stress or anxiety you might be feeling. Discussing your fears or hesitations can help you get more from your initial (and future) sessions. 

Convenient Therapist Matches with Talkspace

You’ll get more out of therapy if you can connect with someone who’s a good fit for your needs. While coming up with questions to ask a therapist can help narrow your options, Talkspace makes it simple to connect with the right care provider for your needs. After just a brief process, we can match you with the ideal mental health provider for your exact needs and goals. Get started with Talkspace today. 

Sources:

  1. Dunlop, B. W. (2016). Evidence-based applications of combination psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy for depression. FOCUS, 14(2), 156–173. doi:10.1176/appi.focus.20150042. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6519650/. Accessed October 16, 2022.
  2. Fordham, B., Sugavanam, T., Edwards, K., Stallard, P., Howard, R., das Nair, R., … Lamb, S. E. (2021). The evidence for cognitive behavioural therapy in any condition, population or context: A meta-review of systematic reviews and panoramic meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine, 51(1), 21–29. doi:10.1017/s0033291720005292. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7856415/. Accessed October 16, 2022.
  3. Hansen, N. B., Lambert, M. J. and Forman, E. M. The psychotherapy dose-response effect and its implications for … – ISPA. The Psychotherapy Dose-Response Effect and Its Implications for Treatment Delivery Services. 16 October 2022 tarihinde https://clinica.ispa.pt/ficheiros/areas_utilizador/user11/41._the_psychotherapy_dose-response_effect_a.pdf from retrieved. https://clinica.ispa.pt/ficheiros/areas_utilizador/user11/41._the_psychotherapy_dose-response_effect_a.pdf. Accessed October 16, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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