Recently, on the Sanctuary Counseling Blog, we discussed the various ways people go about seeking a therapist. Once you’ve taken the time to inform yourself about the various types of counselors available, asked for referrals and experiences from people in your network either individually or via social media, and checked out online reputations and listings on sites such as PsychologyToday.com or HelpPro.com, it’s time to speak with your top choices and see which practice and practitioner might be right for you.
Leave A Message.
When you call any therapist’s office, be aware that, particularly with smaller practices, it’s pretty common to get the practice or practitioner’s voicemail. Therapists are usually in session with clients, and independent therapists and small practices often don’t have full-time receptionists. This helps them keep their session rates down, which is to your benefit. Take the time to leave a message. It’s worth waiting for a call back if it means getting in with a great counselor.
What to Ask A Therapist
Once you get on the phone with a therapist, there are a few questions you can ask that will really help you determine if the counselor or someone in his or her practice will be a good fit for you:
1. “What areas do you specialize in?”: This is a really broad question, but it’s very worthwhile to ask because you’ll get a feel for the therapist’s specializations, manner, and focus right away. For example, if the therapist immediately says, “I specialize in group therapy for grief and loss,” that doesn’t mean that is all s/he does, but it lets you know where the counselor’s focus tends to be. As well, if s/he answers with his or her preferred styles of therapy, this will foster a good conversation about what you’re looking for and whether the counselor’s methods might be a good fit for you. There is no one right answer here. It’s about fostering the conversation.
2. “How much experience do you have with my chief concern?”: Ask the counselor not only how long s/he’s been in practice, but how much experience s/he has with the main concerns that are bringing you into therapy. Finding an excellent counselor with ten years’ experience is fantastic. But if you’re looking for someone who specializes in LGBTQ-affirming therapy or bereavement counseling and the counselor doesn’t have any experience with either, your next question should be…
3. “Is there anyone in your practice or in the area whom you would recommend as a better fit for me?”: Reputable, ethical therapists want you to find the right practitioner who can truly help you. They know the other practitioners in their office and the area and can be a terrific resource for this information. You may be surprised to find that the person to whom you gain a referral has only been in practice for a very short while, may not be the gender you were anticipating, might be much older or younger than you’d envisioned. Ultimately, it’s the rapport and the counselor’s knowledge and skill that matter. Try to stay open to counselors who don’t fit your anticipated model.
4. “Why did you become a therapist, and what keeps you in this field?”: There’s a big difference between what someone does and why s/he does it. Everyone you speak to will “do” therapy, but learning why s/he is compelled to do this work is incredibly telling. Does the therapist answer from a diagnostic perspective? From a healing one? Does the therapist sound impassioned and authentic in his or her answers? Do you get a sense that this is a genuine person who is willing to hold space for your concerns and answer and interact with you truthfully?
5. Alright, #5 isn’t a question, but it’s truly the most important part of the entire interview process: LISTEN. Listen to the therapist. Ask follow-up questions that help you get to know the counselor as a person, not just a practitioner. At Sanctuary Counseling, our counselors check their personal issues, but not their humanity, at the door. We encourage you to seek that authentic connection, that beyond-the-surface rapport and to truly take the time to find the right counselor with whom you can have a meaningful dialog that genuinely helps you along your path to whole-self wellness.
There is No Right Answer.
Finding a counselor is a highly individualized, personal process. It can often take several calls to find someone with whom you find yourself having such an easy conversation that you look up and realize you’ve been chatting for 15 minutes as comfortably as if speaking to an old friend. The questions above aren’t some perfect checklist of: You answered three out of five questions “right,” so I’ll go with you. There are no actual right answers to the questions we listed. There’s no perfect therapy approach, level of experience, or impetus for becoming a counselor. Rather, the point of these questions is to provide a springboard for meaningful dialog that helps you get a feeling for whether this practitioner sees you as a diagnosis, a symptom, or as a whole, valuable, individual person.