Last week, a dear friend of mine in another city inquired about what sorts of things to ask for and learn about when trying to find a therapist. She sent me the following message: “‘I got three counseling referrals from my pastor/friend, but I don’t really know what questions to ask to know which one is the right fit. Explain exactly what I want to learn more about with anxiety support?”
It was such a great, simple and yet actually complex question; one that many first time therapy seeking folks must navigate. I was eager to assist because not only do I love my friend, but I also love the therapy process and think the right fit and right relationship are essential. And though this is not an exhaustive list, it is a few thoughts on what you may want to ask a therapist before working together.
- How do you view change? Most folks are headed into therapy because something isn’t working. If you are able to identify what it is in you that you would like to change — be it how you feel, relationship patterns, anxious thoughts, etc — that’s a huge first step. Getting curious about how the therapist views change is then the next. Personally, I view change as a longer, relational process. I have learned to be upfront with clients that while I can offer some quick skills and possibly even help with this or that, I believe true change only comes in long-term (think a year+) work where the therapeutic relationship has space to work on the roots issues.
- What’s your approach? Not only is this a question regarding what theory or practices a counselor uses, but also one in which to get curious about them as a person. Some therapists allow clients to talk while giving minimal feedback and others are more directive and take the lead. Ask if he or she is more directive if you want that sort of engagement. Additionally, consider asking the counselor what he or she thinks a good therapeutic relationship looks like and see if you agree. If you don’t know what you want, perhaps think of the friends and folks you turn to when you are struggling and think about how they respond to you.
- Ask yourself: How do I feel in and after this conversation? As you talk to a potential counselor, notice how you feel. Feeling a bit anxious is absolutely normal, but does it seem like the therapist “gets you?” Do you feel like you could tell them things and they would listen well? Do they make you laugh, do you feel safe, are their words comforting? Do you feel respected? In some ways, trust your gut. Feeling nervous, uncertain, and a bit uncomfortable is common. But if in the midst of that you think and feel like the person on the other end can help with those, give it a try. Most therapists want a good fit and are happy to help you find that if things don’t work with them.
Be aware of counselors who make big promises and speak into your situation without much information. Learn what your referring friend liked and disliked about their work with the counselor in consideration. There are techniques, experience, and style that all play a role in great therapy, but without relationship, I believe little is to be gained. At the end of the day, I hold fast to the following: They won’t care what you show them until you show them that you care.
Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.