You success in therapy depends on what both you and your therapist bring to the table, but more importantly, it depends on how well you and your therapist jive. Research shows that the therapeutic alliance--basically, the relationship between you and your therapist and whether you are on the same page about your treatment goals and approach--is one of the most important factors in successful therapy outcomes. Here are some things you may want to consider to increase the likelihood you and your therapist will be a good fit, along with questions to ask potential therapists you are researching:
1. WHAT DO THEY SAY ABOUT CHANGE?
You won't find this on many of the traditional "questions to ask a therapist" lists, but it is a creative way to approach the question of what they do in therapy and dig deeper about their beliefs and philosophy as a therapist. Ask your therapist: How do you believe change happens for your clients?
As a therapist, we each have certain beliefs about the way the world works and what helps people make changes in their lives. Some therapists believe that change happens when clients develop insight into their problems. Other therapists believe that clients just need additional skills in order to cope. Others propose that the only necessary ingredient for change is a genuine connection with your therapist and a safe place to be yourself.
2. TRAINING & APPROACH
While training and theoretical approach aren't everything--as we've already discussed, it's your relationship with your therapist that trumps all else--they are still important to consider, especially if you are seeking help for a specific condition or problem where not all therapists have a background or expertise.
You may want to ask questions about your therapist's degree and license, where they received their training, and any special approaches, techniques, or populations where they are experienced. This is also a time to share what specific concerns you are seeking therapy for--a good therapist will provide you with referrals elsewhere if they are unable to help you.
Another topic not typically discussed during initial phone calls but so important to therapy outcomes is expectations for therapy. Ask your potential therapist: What are your expectations of clients? and ask yourself the same question: What are my expectations for therapy? Of a therapist? If your answers are drastically different than your potential therapist, you may have a problem.
For example, if your therapist expects that you will do homework inbetween sessions and practice the skills you are learning outside of therapy, but this isn't something you're interested in--you might want to find a therapist who is OK with most of the work happening in session.
4. INSURANCE & FEES
You may be wondering why this item was not first on the list. Unfortunately, partnering and getting reimbursed by insurance companies is a complicated process and sometimes brings up ethical considerations for therapists about being able to provide you the best treatment.
However, finances are understandably an important consideration when choosing a therapist. If you are looking to use your insurance benefits, you will want to ask: Are you in-network or out-of-network for my insurance company? Will you submit claims on my behalf to my insurance company, or do you require me to pay out of pocket? Generally, even therapists who use a fee-for-service model can provide you with a superbill (receipt) for services that you can submit to your insurance company.
5. DON'T BE AFRAID TO SAY NO
It is frustrating to put so much work and effort into locating a therapist, finding a time to speak with them on the phone, and revealing personal information about yourself that may put you in an emotional state of mind. However, if you have any hesitation after your phone consultation with your therapist, let them know! A good therapist wants to work with clients who are a good fit for them and vice versa, so if you have concerns about whether they are the right person for you, tell them and take some time to think it over. Think of finding a therapist as interviewing someone for a job (which really is what you are doing!)--even though it may mean extra work and time, you want to make sure the person you find is a good long-term fit or otherwise, what's the point of hiring them?