7 Questions To Ask A Therapist That Don’t Have To Be Confrontational
Making the decision to go see a therapist is a big, important step in your journey of mental health care. But you may also have a lot of questions — before and during the therapy process — and that’s okay. Asking your therapist questions is a vital part of the process.
Sometimes, you may feel like you don’t know what to ask them, or like you’re not qualified to question certain things. But that isn’t true. Your therapist is a professional, but you are the expert on your own body, mind, and life circumstances. You have a lot to learn from your therapist about coping skills, unpacking trauma, managing stress, and communicating in your relationships. And your therapist has a lot to learn from you, including your background, concerns, needs, and expectations. Sometimes, they’ll cover this by asking their own questions. But other times, the questions you choose to ask them will reveal a lot to you both.
"Because so many [therapists] come from different backgrounds and teaching philosophies, it's important to understand what lens the therapist is looking from," therapist Celeste Viciere, LMHC, host of Celeste the Therapist podcast, tells Bustle. Then, "you can make a judgment on whether or not that might be a good fit for you."
Asking questions and confirming certain aspects of treatment can be a way to put your mind at ease. And it also helps your therapist know how to treat you better. For the questions below, you can ask them if this is your first session, your third, or your 30th. You never know how the answers might help you.
1. What’s Your Area of Expertise?
When it comes to therapists, one size does not fit all, especially depending on what they specialize in. For instance, sex therapists can help you figure out complicated questions of sexuality, including orientation, trouble with intimacy, and past trauma without making you feel shamed. Some mental health professionals specialize in specific conditions, like post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and dissociative identity disorder, among others.
For Viciere, who is a cognitive behavior therapist, this is a great question to ask your therapist. Viciere tells Bustle, "It's kind of impossible to like be a guru in every area of mental health and psychology," and that patients should understand that their therapist's "strengths" are. Or perhaps a person with a marriage and family counseling background can help you through difficult times with your loved ones, or improving communication with them.
If you know that you have specific needs for therapy, it might be worth asking more questions about your therapist’s experience in that area.
2. What’s Your Philosophy Of Care?
Most health providers have a philosophy of care, which is a set of core values that shows you how your provider sees their own roles and responsibilities. Check out this one from Yale Health to get an idea of what it looks like. Some philosophies of care will also give you some insight into the specific methods and treatments that your therapist might suggest.
3. How Will We Track My Progress?
I know from experience that sometimes talk therapy can feel like it’s not going anywhere. You may have gone to therapy with a specific goal in mind: reducing anxiety, improving communication with your partner, or managing depression. You might be looking for instant results, or frustrated that you might be dealing with the same problems. But that doesn’t always mean that therapy isn't working; after all, healing isn’t linear.
Viciere tells Bustle that "It's OK to check in with your therapist and say 'I don't feel like things are moving forward for me.' It may not be the therapist, it could be the client has assumptions of how things work in therapy. But being able to say how you feel about the way the sessions are going is important."
However, it may be reassuring for you to know how your therapist is tracking your progress, so that you will have more clarity on when and whether it is time for you to stop therapy. And if you’re not happy with the way your therapist plans to track your progress, then it might be time to move on.
4. I May Not Be Able To Afford The Fee; Are There More Affordable Options?
Therapy can be expensive, and the fee for a session may be in the triple digits, according to mental health app Talkspace.com. And sometimes, you can run into unexpected situations that might make paying that fee harder. If you feel that it might be too much of an expense at this time, you can ask your therapist if their office has a sliding scale option, or if it would be healthy for you to come twice a month instead of every week.
5. What Is Your Experience Working With People Of My Racial/Ethnic Group?
According to the American Psychological Association, 86% of U.S. psychologists were white in 2015. So if you’re a person who does not identify as white, you may have to see a therapist that doesn’t share that experience with you. It’s OK to ask your therapist if they have experience working with people of marginalized ethnic identities, especially if its important to you to have someone who understands your unique cultural background. If you'd like to speak to issues in therapy relating to identifying with a marginalized group, seeking out a culturally competent therapist might be helpful for you. If you don’t feel like it’s a good fit, then it might be time to leave.
6. Is This A Safe Space For Me to Talk About Discrimination, Inequality, and Oppression?
When you identify as a member of a marginalized group, you may face obstacles that feel frustrating and unfair, and these obstacles will likely come up in therapy. But if you have a therapist that isn’t comfortable having these conversations, it can be really difficult to work through them together. It’s worth it to consult with your therapist and ask whether they will be able to engage with heavy conversations about racism, homophobia, transphobia, and classism.
7. What Are Your Policies For Involuntary Admittance?
Sometimes, when a patient is in crisis, they may need to be involuntarily admitted to a hospital. This is a measure intended to maintain the patient’s safety, and as I reported earlier for Bustle, it can often save lives. However, in that same report, I also found that some women felt like their experiences were negative, often because of miscommunication between them and the therapist that recommended they be involuntarily admitted. It’s worth it to have a conversation with your therapist about how would they go about having a patient involuntarily admitted, including stating whether you feel comfortable with authorities being called, or if there is a specific hospital you’d like to go to if your therapist determines you are in crisis.
Asking questions can feel nerve-wracking and awkward. But remember, your therapist is there to help you. And you don't have to stop asking questions. They're a great way of making sure that your therapist is doing their job, and that you are getting closer to your mental health goals. Like Viciere says, "Whether or not you think you're going to offend your therapist or not, at the end of the day, the reason why you're there for your self and your healing and your growth."
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.