Therapy creates funny feelings — you tell this person your most intimate thoughts and feelings, but when it comes to asking questions, you might feel nervous or intimidated. It can be tough not to put therapists on a pedestal or occasionally feel anxious with them.
However, therapy is a service you purchase; the therapeutic relationship is also a business relationship. As a customer, you have the right to ask questions about your service, just as you would if you were buying a car or hiring someone to fix your shower. A few common questions folks have about therapy include:
- Cost, insurance, and payment
- Length of service
- Therapy style or theoretical approach
- Diagnosis, prognosis, and goals
Let’s take a look at each of these to help you navigate questions you may have for your therapist.
Common Questions for Your Therapist
Money can be an awkward topic, for both the client and the therapist. Let’s face it, it feels odd to pay someone to talk to you, but you are paying. Here are some questions you should feel free to ask:
- How much do sessions cost?
- Are there cancellation or no-show fees?
- What insurance is accepted?
- Do you have to pay at the time of service, or wait for a bill?
- Are there discounts for paying cash instead of filing insurance?
- What happens if you can’t pay?
Therapy intimidates many people because they’re used to stereotypes of old-style, years-long analysis. It’s hard to commit when you don’t know what you’re actually committing to. Modern therapy (cognitive-behavioral therapy included) is results-oriented and clients often start to feel significant improvement in as little as 3 months. Therapists also can’t give you a time frame for your therapeutic journey until they know you better. Still, you can pose a few questions to address these concerns, such as:
- How long does therapy in your practice typically last? Of course, this varies according to individual needs, but you can ask if the therapist tends to do short-term or long-term work.
- How will you know when you’re done? Can you set a specific number of sessions? Is the end determined by your insurance limits and ability to pay? What if you want to take breaks or return later?
Theory and practice
Most people don’t ask questions about their therapist’s theoretical approach, probably because they don’t realize how much it matters. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to find out if this therapist’s approach will be a good match for the issues you’re seeking help for. Here are some ways to get this information:
- What is the therapist’s general approach to therapy? Do they focus more on short-term behavioral change or long-term processing of emotional patterns?
- Will there be homework, workbooks, or reading?
- Is scheduling rigid and predictable or does it vary by need and circumstances over time?
Diagnosis and prognosis
There’s some controversy over whether therapists should tell clients their diagnosis. Some feel clients have a right to know. Others avoid labels, since diagnostic terms can be frightening, limiting, and incomplete. Here are some things you might ask:
- Will the therapists share diagnosis, and if not, why? What can you expect to be told about your condition?
- What is your prognosis? That is, based on the available information, does you therapist envision a full recovery or a situation that will need to be managed over years?
- Does the therapist feel you can make progress? What obstacles or limitations do they anticipate you might face?
- Do you need a medication evaluation by a psychiatrist or other supplemental work in addition to the therapy?
- What are the specific goals of the therapy? How are they measured?
Maintaining appropriate therapeutic boundaries poses one of the biggest challenges for clients and therapists alike. As you’re telling someone personal, intimate details, the sense of closeness makes it easy to forget the relationship is solely a professional one. Still, successful treatment depends upon appropriate boundaries. Consider these questions regarding boundaries:
- How and when can you contact the therapist? Don’t expect to get personal contact information, make social media connections, or have a therapist constantly on call. Find out the rules and be sure to follow them.
- How do you handle it if you run into your therapist outside of therapy, say while buying groceries or at a restaurant?
- What are the confidentiality rules?
Who can participate in your therapy with you? Sometimes it’s appropriate to have a spouse or child participate, but don’t take it for granted. Your therapist can help decide how and when others join your work.
Although therapy can seem daunting or intimidating at times, it’s actually more approachable than many people think. Remember, the person you’re seeing is trained to understand your feelings and reservations. Feel free to ask whatever questions you need to make the most out of your experience.