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Looking for a New Therapist? Here Are 8 Essential Questions To Ask Before Your First Appointment

Identifying the right mental health therapist for you starts with asking the right questions.

Man asking his therapist questions
Getty Images/Kobus Louw/E+

Anyone who's started therapy probably knows that it may take a few tries before you find the best therapist for your needs. Many therapists specialize in certain mental illnesses or situations such as marriage problems or anger management. That means that another person's ideal therapist might not necessarily be yours. 

So, let's talk about how to find a good therapist through targeted queries. 

Read more: 5 Best Online Therapy Services

The 8 most important questions to ask a therapist

Woman asking her therapist questions
Getty Images/SDI Productions/E+

When you choose therapy, you choose to make an investment in yourself. You're going to be expending time, money and quite a bit of emotional energy there. The right person sitting across from you can make or break the experience. To help yourself find the ideal partner, do some digging. Take advantage of the free phone consultations most therapists offer to ask these questions: 

1. Do you have experience working with patients who share my condition? 

Be frank with your potential therapist about why you're choosing therapy and what you want to get out of it. If you think you're living with a mental health condition like anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, tell them so. Or if you're looking for help with a specific issue -- like stress management or family dynamics -- be upfront about it. Ask them about their background working with people in a situation similar to yours. You might specifically ask about their degree, certifications and training in that area. 

The best therapist for you will be comfortable talking about the problems on your plate. Listen for familiarity. Does it seem like they get it? Does it seem like they get you? You don't necessarily need to find someone who has decades of experience handling your specific condition or situation, but you do want someone who can jump straight in with you. If they don't seem familiar with what you want to discuss, consider that a major red flag. 

2. What type of therapy do you recommend for my condition?

If you only need to know how to find a therapist in general, it's pretty easy. But figuring out how to find a good therapist for your specific wants and needs requires more work. That's because several types of therapy exist today, and one is likely better suited to your situation than others. 

The majority of therapists out there today have training in cognitive behavioral therapy, which can be a great way to address a wide range of mental illnesses. But let's say you want therapy to help you find the right career path. Something like coaching might be a better fit than CBT. 

Ultimately, the therapist should be the expert on the options that exist and which might be a good fit for you. Ask them what they recommend for you. Their answer here will tell you two things. First, if it's thoughtful and feels personalized, it suggests that the therapist is truly listening to you. Establishing a meaningful relationship is a huge first step.

Secondly, the answer shows you how much that therapist knows about the options available to you. You want someone who can guide your journey down the most effective path. Be wary of a potential therapist who gives you an overly generalized answer here. 

3. Do you take a more directive or more guiding approach to therapy? 

There isn't a right or wrong answer here. But if you want to know how to find a good therapist, you should ask this question to both your potential therapist and yourself. 

What do you want here? If you're feeling totally overwhelmed, a therapist who will tell you specific steps that you should take might feel like a breath of fresh air. If you're looking for more of a sounding board, though, you might want someone who guides more gently. Having the space held to make your own decisions might be important to you. 

Asking your could-be therapist this question helps you get a feel for how they view your relationship. Do they see themself as a firm hand or as a listening ear? More importantly, does what they offer align with what you want?

4. How will we work together to set my therapy goals?

This question drives at the core of it: How does therapy work with this specific therapist? Some therapists see their office as a place you come for a continual conversation, while others set benchmarks and plan to hold you accountable to them through your sessions together. 

Talk with them about the actual logistics of the therapy work you'll do together. Do they have you fill out a starting questionnaire? Do they provide you with some tangible goal-tracking tool, like a journal? Understanding their preferred process gives you a good sense of what to expect. Therapy is work, but everyone works differently. Ask any follow-up questions you need to get a handle on how this specific therapist's sessions usually function. 

Then, tune in with yourself here. Is their goal-setting method one that resonates with you? Do you like how they try to help you move forward? What might feel too restrictive for one person could be the right level of support for another, so this is all about your personal preferences. 

5. How long should I expect to be in therapy? 

Based on what you share about yourself and what you're trying to get out of therapy, your potential mental health therapist should be able to give you a ballpark idea here. Some people might be able to resolve the issue at hand in a few months. In most cases, though, therapy requires an ongoing commitment with an unknown end date. Some people keep getting therapy for the rest of their lives.

Talk with your therapist about what to expect. Remember, though, that this is just a rough outline. It's tough to know what you'll need until you truly dig into the self-work therapy requires. 

6. How much do you charge per session? Do you accept insurance? 

Ultimately, you might be wondering how to find a therapist covered by insurance. Before you assume that you can only see someone who takes your specific coverage, though, know that therapy might be more affordable than you think, even when you're paying out of pocket. 

Many therapists offer sliding scale payments, which means they adjust the cost of your sessions based on your income. The goal here is to make therapy affordable for everyone. 

Don't be afraid to ask your therapist how much each session will cost. Ask if they offer sliding scale payments and if they take your specific insurance coverage. Gathering up all of these details can help you find the best therapist for not just your mental health needs but also for your budget. 

7. Are your therapy sessions online or in-office? 

During the pandemic, online therapy skyrocketed. If you have a busy schedule or you feel most comfortable at home, you might prefer to meet with your therapist via video chat. Some people find it easier to build a relationship with their therapist when they're meeting in person, though.

Ultimately, it's good to know your options here. Can the therapist align with your preferences? It might be ideal to find someone who offers both in-person and online therapy. That way, if you're ever sick or traveling, you can still have a video call -- but in-person therapy will be available when you want or need it. 

8. Do you think we're a good fit?

All of these questions can help you find a therapist who's a good fit, but your therapist should feel that the match makes sense, too. And in some cases, there may be a conflict you're not seeing from your side. If you want therapy to work through trauma you carry from a religious upbringing and the therapist is currently practicing that religion, for example, that could make things challenging for both of you. 

As a professional, the therapist likely won't volunteer personal information. By asking this question, you're giving them space to speak to any possible conflicts about which you might not be aware. Ultimately, as you're figuring out how to find a therapist, the therapist is simultaneously figuring out how to best serve you. In some cases, that might mean recommending that you see someone else. 

Why should you ask a new therapist questions? 

Your therapist isn't going to become your new best friend, but they are a person who will get to know you intimately. You need to feel safe and supported with them. 

And even if you're not convinced you'll go ultradeep with that individual, therapy still costs a fair amount. You want to make sure you're getting a return on your investment. Asking the right questions helps you find the best therapist for your specific needs so you can see results.

On that note, there are a few things to keep in mind as you choose your therapist:

  • Credentials and experience: Some therapists work under supervision in order to finish their credentialing process. That doesn't mean they're not competent mental health professionals, but asking about it now can save you from a surprise down the road. 
  • Specialty: Ask if they have an area of focus, like marriage and family therapy or eating disorders. See how their specialty, if they have one, aligns with your needs.
  • How much sessions cost and if they accept insurance: Budget plays a role here. You want to be able to continue with therapy for as long as it's serving you, so make sure you can feasibly afford it long-term. 
  • Ability to write prescriptions: Some therapists are also psychiatrists, which means they can prescribe medication. If you think you might want a prescription, consider looking for a psychiatrist or asking your potential therapist if they have psychiatry connections they can refer you to. 
  • Their availability: Does the therapist give you their contact information so you can reach out outside of sessions if you need help? If that's something you think you may want, inquire about it. 
  • Cancellation and missed appointment policies: Find out how much you'll have to pay if you miss an appointment or cancel one last-minute, especially if your schedule makes that seem likely. 

And last but not least, remember that you can always change therapists. The important thing is starting your therapy journey. It's a little like a dating relationship. If your first therapist isn't a long-term fit, what you learn from them can give you clarity into what you do and don't want in your next therapist. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.