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Gaining Ground's Staff Blog
Meeting a New Therapist
Kyle Fullmer, LMHC
August 17th, 2020
Maybe you’ve never been to therapy, or maybe you’ve seen too many therapists to count. Whether you’re a seasoned client or a rookie to the world of therapy, there can be an innumerable amount of thoughts and feelings that you may face when coming to your first appointment.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be asking you” is a comment that I’ve heard plenty of times. It’s common for clients to feel uncertain at this stage of therapy, and sometimes easing this feeling can be as easy as knowing what you’re going to ask or discuss in your first appointment.
Many therapists in today’s world will offer a free 30-minute consultation (myself included). This is because of an understanding that people need more than a website or a listing to figure out if they’re going to like the therapist they’ve selected. During this consultation, the therapist is likely going to ask questions to get a better understanding of your unique attributes, as well as the stressors and problems that you’re bringing to therapy.
While these questions are important for the therapist to make their decision about working with you, keep in mind that you also have the power to make the very same decision. Therefore, you can ask questions that will ideally help you feel more at ease about what it would be like to work with that specific therapist. It’s okay to have questions and topics prepared in advance so that you don’t forget them.
The following are some example questions that can sometimes help clients get an idea of what it’s like to work with that specific therapist:
What kind of goals or outcomes would be ideal for my situation/issues?
How will I know therapy is working?
What type of therapy do you use? Can you explain what that therapy style looks like?
Do you consider yourself to be a confrontational therapist?
How often will we be meeting?
Will we talk about my family or personal history?
Can I choose to avoid certain topics?
What makes you qualified to help me with my specific problem?
While those are some of the basic questions, there are three additional topics that you can address: the cost of treatment, the therapist’s policies, and the therapist’s personal life.
Cost of Treatment
It would be surprising for the cost of treatment to not be discussed at the first appointment. This is an issue that varies greatly depending on the therapist. If you’re working through a state-funded agency, the cost of treatment is likely going to be the same for everyone, and (ideally) insurance will be covering a portion of that cost.
In my practice, the cost of treatment is going to vary depending on each individual’s financial situation. While it can be uncomfortable to discuss finances and affording treatment, I strongly encourage that you take the opportunity to discuss the affordability of therapy with your therapist.
Each therapist is likely going to follow a very similar set of ethical and legal guidelines for practicing therapy. One policy that is going to vary depending on the therapist of your choice will be the absence and cancellation policy. Some therapists charge a fee for certain types of absences or cancellations, while some do not. This is important to know in advance if you ever face an unexpected change that could impact your attendance in treatment.
Therapist’s Personal Life
The therapeutic relationship is largely dependent on both the client and the therapist and what both individuals bring to the room. Many therapists understand that cultural differences or similarities are going to have a massive impact on a client’s level of comfort with their therapist. Think about your ideal therapist - is it a man or woman? Are they a certain race or sexual orientation? Do they bring faith, religion, or spirituality into their beliefs and therapeutic practices?
Therapists want our clients to ask questions! It’s okay to ask basic questions about a therapists cultural background or personal life, because it makes sense that these things are going to have an impact on your relationship with the person you’re working with. Ultimately, therapists want our clients to feel as comfortable and safe as possible in working together.
The therapist isn’t a mind-reader, so they’re not always going to know if you’re uncomfortable or uncertain until you bring it up. Make it a challenge to yourself to be as open as possible in your communication with your therapist from the get-go.