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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Ardoin

10 Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

Seeking a counselor or psychotherapist can be a stressful experience, but clients ought to feel empowered to choose the therapist that is right for them. Understandably, not everyone has access to more than one therapist or organization option, but when you do, it can save time and energy to interview your therapist potentials in advance to ensure you have found someone who is a good fit. Hopefully these questions will make the process a little easier.

1. Are you licensed? If not, then did you attend a counseling or social work program?

In Colorado, some psychotherapists continue to use the "Registered Psychotherapist" label, and some psychotherapists are "Coaches" as opposed to licensed Counselors or Social Workers. A Registered Psychotherapist is registered with the State Board of Registered Psychotherapists, but this person does not necessarily have any license, certification, degree, training or experience. Similarly, some "Coaches" have minimal coaching or therapy training, and some have years and years of experience! At the end of the day, it is ALWAYS a good idea to ask potential therapists about their background and education, and not make any assumptions.

Generally, licensed individuals with have the label LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), or LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist). Licensed folks will have received a Masters, PhD, or PsyD in Counseling, Social Work, Marriage and Family therapy, Counseling Psychology, or a related field in Psychology, which generally takes about 3 years of education to complete, as well as 2-5 years of post-graduate experience in the field. LACs, or Licensed Addiction Counselors, have completed special training specific to working with people dealing with substance use issues, however they may or may not have completed this training outside of the context of a graduate program, and they may or may not have Counseling or Social Work experience or education outside of their addiction specialty.

2. What are your specialties? Are you currently in any kind of training, or learning a new specialty?

When therapists are learning a new specialty, they are often excited to use it on clients immediately. If you are excited to try IFS, EMDR, PACT, or another popular type of therapy you may want to find a therapist who is recently trained in the type of therapy you are excited about.

On the other hand, if you are seeking a couples therapist to help with sexual issues in your relationship and you have found a therapist who specializes in working with domestic violence victims on an individual basis, then that is clearly not a good fit.

If you are looking for CBT or DBT because you read these are the most common evidence-based therapies, but you find a therapist who practices person-centered therapy and EMDR, you may want to consider opening your mind and heart to this therapist because person-centered therapy is also evidence-based in its own way, as one of the major keys to change in therapy is the therapeutic relationship, plus EMDR is also evidence-based.

Even if the therapist is not specialized in exactly what you are looking for, they may still be a good fit if their personality fits with yours, and if you are both open to trying something a little different than what you hoped for.

3. How do you feel about working with people with my identities? Do you have experience with my population?

While this question may be more pressing for neurodivergent individuals and people of color, it may also be relevant to men or elder folks. Some therapists are not accustomed to working with young men, or people over 60, and this may impact the relationship in a negative way. Definitely, for people of color, or autistic people, or ADHD folks, it may be of higher importance to find a therapist with experience with these populations and with a multicultural framework or with shared identities, as safety can be at stake. Queer and trans folks often feel more comfortable working with queer or trans therapists, too, and find relief in not having to "educate" their therapist. However, it is also possible to find a cis white male therapist who is multiculturally conscious and educated on how to process identity differences. Asking them how they feel about working with your identities can give you a lot of information about whether they feel comfortable or not with you, and whether they are someone safe to work with.

4. How do you feel about working with someone who has ____, or who is ____? Do you think that might get in the way of our work together? How or how not?

You may want to move beyond identities and ask about specific experiences. A counselor with a lot of personal addiction experience may not feel ready to work with someone who is a heroin addict, even if the client is in recovery. A counselor grieving their own recent miscarriage may struggle to work with a client who has seven children and feels resentful of motherhood. While it is the therapist's responsibility to work through their own "countertransference" (feelings toward the client), it is also their responsibility to refer out if they think countertransference will get in the way of the therapy.

If a client and counselor are both in the LGBTQ+ community in a small city, they may need to have more active discussions about how to handle seeing each other in public situations; while dual relationships ought to be avoided when possible, in some geographical locations it is not possible to avoid them in a healthy manner for both participants -- however, if another counselor is available and the situation is discussed upfront, then the client may decide to see a different counselor instead, avoiding awkwardness and stress later.

Ultimately, you want to work with a therapist who can handle ALL of you, so it's best to be upfront about where you're coming from, and to make sure they can handle you!

5. If you have a colleague who you think might be a better fit with me, would you send me their contact info so I can interview them, too?

Sure, private practice therapy is a business, but an ethical practitioner will not hold back referrals if they really believe a client would be a better fit with a colleague.

6. What is the copay if I use my insurance? If not using insurance, what's the out of pocket price?

7. Can we have a set time to meet weekly or are you usually booking for every 2-3 weeks out? Do you have flexibility with scheduling?

Some therapists at agencies don't have a lot of control over their schedules and are easily overbooked, while private practice therapists may have extreme flexibility. It's okay to prioritize what YOU need as a client! If you need a weekly set time, try to find a therapist who can offer that. I always recommend clients try to keep a regular weekly time, at least at the beginning of the relationship.

8. What might it look like when you challenge me in session?

How someone might "challenge" you reveals more about them than just what kind of therapy they do - it reveals how they do it. As a client, you don't need to know what every single type of therapy is! But you know yourself best, so if you know that you need a therapist who will ask a lot of questions, you should look for that! If you know you need someone gentle and calming, prioritize that. If you prefer to process emotions nonverbally, you could look for someone who integrates movement, meditation, or art therapy into their practice. Some people need more direct / directive therapists, and others need more indirect / non-directive therapists.

Our need for "challenge" changes throughout life. When I was a teenager "challenge" in therapy looked like my therapist teaching specific self-soothing skills and asking if I used them outside of therapy. When I was a young adult "challenge" meant facing my unconscious processes. As a 28-year-old "challenge" now means holding me accountable for continuing to treat myself with care and also talking very directly about relationship dynamics, continuing to deepen relationships further.

9. Do you have another job, or a family, and pets?

It's okay to want to see your therapist as a human being! Not all therapists will give you a straight answer, but for some clients it's very helpful to be able to imagine their therapist as a real person even from the beginning of therapy.

10. How do other clients generally experience you?

The answer will give you a sense of the clinician's self-awareness as well as a snapshot of their personality.

Thanks for reading! Please like and share this article with others if you found it helpful!

If you think of more questions people should ask, please put them in the comments!

A handout version of these 10 questions are also shared below in PDF form for you to download/print and use when you interview your next potential therapist.

Questions to Ask Potential Therapists - Handout
Download PDF • 29KB

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