This post is part two of my series on how I go about finding a therapist. You can find part one here. Whether you are looking for your first therapist or your third, fourth, fifth – I hope that this series can help you navigate what is often an emotional and anxiety inducing experience.
These tips are based on ten years of therapy across 8 therapists. Only two of them stuck. You may not have the answers to all these questions, but I encourage you to use every interaction you have as a learning experience, and to make sure that the process is right for you.
In the first post we discussed finding somebody who has a free phone consultation involved in their practice of meeting somebody new. Many therapists have this, and some don’t. If you like the looks of somebody who does not offer the phone consultation, feel free to jump right into the third part of this series – the first meeting. In some cases, like when I was in school, I was limited in my choice of practitioner. If this is something that is similar to you, then you can feel free to jump wherever feels right for you or even ignore this altogether.
Above all, trust your intuition to know what is right for you. What I write below is based entirely on my own experiences.
Before the phone call
Make sure you schedule the phone call for a time when you can be relaxed and in a safe space to talk freely. I always ensure that I have eaten something, am not intoxicated in any way, and I try to ensure that I have had a good night’s sleep. This can be really hard in the throes of an emotional crises – so be gentle with yourself.
Write down all the questions you want answered. Situate yourself somewhere comfortable.
I never, never, feel calm before talking to someone new on the phone. In fact, a good indication of whether or not we fit is if they pick up on that anxiety and work to move the conversation from their end, because I’m not going to be good at driving the conversation. I try to remember that this is my chance to interview them, and that I am going to hire them to help me, not the other way around.
In this brief interaction I am trying to see if they can meet my needs, to learn more about them, and to explore if we are a good fit. I want to get the sense that they are exploring the fit question as well, and that they are totally involved in the conversation with me.
During the phone call
This is the list of questions I ask, without exception, in every introductory phone call.
- Where did you go to school? Why did you pick that particular program? I ask this question to ensure they didn’t get an online certificate from a school I’ve never heard of. I’m also genuinely curious in why they pursued the path they did.
- Have you worked with people with complex PTSD before? Insert your own diagnosis here or a bit about your presenting trauma, if you are comfortable. They should never be pressing you further than you feel comfortable disclosing in this conversation.
- What would you consider your specialty? If they don’t have one or say something like “everything” then I’m immediately wary. I’m looking for someone who is a match for my condition and nobody can be an expert in everything.
- Are you licensed? Can I look up your license with the governing body? This is key too. If you aren’t licensed I’m not stepping foot in your office. Not only does that mean they are not responsible to a licensing body but it prevents a safe environment for both of us.
- What are their boundaries regarding out of session contact? This is important to me, as I have learned over time what I need. It is also worth exploring. For example, I can’t see someone who believes constant contact is okay.
- How would you describe your therapeutic approach? Tell me about your orientation. This is important because some therapists combine orientations. And some don’t believe they have one (hint: they all have one, whether or not they can define it). My current counsellor combines three approaches. If you aren’t sure what they are talking about or need it broken down more, ask. For example, if they say “I am a Jungian Analyst”, feel free to be like “and what does that look like in session for a client?”
- What does it cost per session? Do you have a sliding fee scale? How long are the sessions? Do you offer a maximum amount per week? Do you offer extended sessions if it is necessary? This set of questions really depends on you and your needs. I need to see someone between 1-2 times a week, and I need 90 minute sessions. I know this from experience. If you aren’t sure what you need, it is still a good set of questions to ask, so you know where their boundaries are.
- How long have you been practicing and why did you become a counsellor? This is the first of two key questions for me. I want to know their story. I want to know why they do the work that they do, and see how that resonates with me. I also want to know their background and where they are approaching counselling from.
- Are you or have you ever been in therapy? Personally, I will not ever see someone who has not been in therapy themselves. It is too important to me that they have sat on the other side, and that they know what that side feels like. Seeing someone who has not seen a counsellor, I believe, puts our relationship more at risk.
When I first met A, on the phone, she was kind, and open. She asked me to tell her anything I was comfortable telling her about me and then went straight into “Do you have any questions?” She handled the above list like a pro. Overall, I had a really good feeling about her.
After The Call
Take some time if you can to write down your first impressions and your overall feeling. The counsellor should never make you feel like you have to commit right then and there. In fact, I’ve only had one person do that, and it was a major red flag. The therapist should realize that you need time to process and decide if they are right for you.
Feel free to take your time to email them back, and honestly if you’ve had a poor experience, you don’t have to follow up. I find it personally helpful to email anybody I’ve talked to and either explain why I will or will not be following up with them, but remember that you are in the drivers seat. You make the decisions here.
I will schedule first appointments with the therapists who make me feel settled on the phone, and who I don’t get any red flag feelings about. Above all, trust your gut. And for more on the first appointment, see part three: the first session(s).