You really can ask a therapist questions...
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As a psychologist I am really a pro at asking questions. When I am starting to work with a client there are lots of things we cover so that we can clearly make a plan for therapy and so we can understand how the past and present may be impacting you as a person. I always point out that the folks I serve can ask me questions too. Sometimes this surprises people.
It is my philosophy that building a collaborative relationship with my therapy clients can become one of the most important parts of helping bring about change in my client's life. We are both invested in this process to help you move forward.
As you are selecting a therapist there are several questions you should consider asking. Let me tell you about just a few of them.
1) Tell me about your style as a therapist?
Every therapist has a style that informs their work with clients. This is often referred to as theoretical orientation. This is a fancy way to describe the techniques and skills the therapist will use to work with clients and help clients make their goals a reality. Some therapist will be more directive while others will let clients lead the session in what seems like a more free flowing manner. Underneath these styles a therapist is working from their theoretical framework about how change happens for clients. Asking a therapist about their style can help you as the client know what to expect and can also begin to let you know how your therapist will approach work with you and your goals. Also, asking this question gives you a chance to hear the therapist explain their understanding of what helps people change. It can really give you a chance to see if you may click with the therapist.
2) What are your experiences working with _______? (insert your concern or goals in the blank.)
As you are meeting with therapists asking about their experiences working with your concerns can begin to let you know if you are potentially a good fit. It will also let you know if your therapist has the training and approach that heads you in the right direction. I would also point out that just because a psychologist doesn't have extensive experience in one area does not mean that you wouldn't want to work with them. Some therapists may have years of experience working with older adults, kids, or any other group but could lack the personal connection or skills you are seeking. Over and over again research has shown that the empathetic listening and insight that comes from therapy is a major element that brings about change. Asking about past clinical experiences though gives you a chance as a client to hear the therapist think out loud about their work and past experiences. This can be a great window into their approach as a therapist.
3) What are your fees, cancellation policies, phone call policies, etc? (And any other topic that may help you understand the expectations and services.)
Whenever I am working with a client for the first time I deliberately make time and space to go over all the polices and procedures in my office. This open conversation helps both of us understand how our relationship in therapy can work and can help us avoid misunderstandings. I let me clients know that our working together is a special type of relationship and when we take time to set the stage we can be more likely reach their goals. Asking a therapist about their procedures and polices helps you hear how prepared they are to offer the types of services you are looking to receive. Boundaries should be clear so that you aren't left to wonder. And when questions come up I hope you will feel you get time and space to ask!
4) What are your strengths as a therapist? What types of continuing education do you enjoy?
Wow! This can be a good question. Here is my opinion on this one... A therapist is always learning and maturing. We have trained and worked for a long time to be licensed and each year continue to engage in professional development courses. Any therapist who is continuing to grow should be thinking about this question. Listening to this answer can help you understand what strengths will assist you in your work as a client and also how your therapist is working to keep their skills up to date.
I hope this post has given you some ideas about how to talk with a therapist and get to know their style. If you would like to hear some more about my work and see if we may be a good fit for your goals give me a call and let's talk.