Initial Questions and Considerations
Consider why you want to see a counselor and imagine what the ideal counselor or therapist is like. The better you can define what you want, the closer you will come to finding her or him. If you aren’t sure? No worries, the interview process will help you narrow it down. Think about interviewing 3-5 therapists before deciding.
- Do you prefer a particular gender identity? Or any special “identities?”
- Do you want someone who is like you or perhaps someone with a very different life experience or culture, than you?
- Are you warm and touchy-feely and want a warm, empathic therapist or are you “cooler” and want “just the facts”?
- Do you want to explore feelings or do you want more control over those bothersome thoughts that are ruling your mind?
- Are you in recovery from trauma or addictions?
- Do you want to meet face to face, or do it via phone or video conference at a distance?
You can spend some time reading about counselors on Psychology Today website in your city or town, to get a ‘feel” for different types in your region.
Continuing the “Interview” Process
When “shopping” for a therapist (yes, we use the word shop for your therapist and we also use the phrase “fire your therapist”) ask to speak with them on the phone for 15 minutes at no charge to see if you are a good fit. OR, ask for a free session or partial session in person. Experienced and busy therapists (such as myself) may give you 15 minutes at no charge. Others who are starting out may give you an hour at no charge. Do not assume that because someone is starting out that they cannot help you as well as a seasoned clinician. It’s really about how you feel and respond to the individual. Before you even call them, look them up in your state registry to view their license and if there are any pending ethics violations.
Once you speak to them or are in the office, do you feel that they “get you,” are going to care about you, and have a plan to help you that they can articulate. Are you comfortable in their office? Is it clean and inviting? When you describe the issues that concern you, do you feel heard or understood. It’s not that a therapist may immediately know a lot about you and what you need, but do you sense they care and can “get” you? Ask her or him about their philosophy of counseling and how they think change occurs. If you have limited time or are on a budget, ask them how many sessions they think would be necessary for you to feel better or experience change or, to reach some of your initial goals. You want a therapist who can admit to making a mistake. Are there certain values that are important to you? For example, maybe you’re an atheist and do not want a Christian counselor; or on the flip side, religion is important and you want someone with similar beliefs.
The Final Decision
In short, you are interviewing them for a job. You do not want a friend. You want someone who can respect boundaries and be present and authentic and skillfully help you. Ask them, after talking with you, if they think they can be of help to you and if so in what ways specifically. You are hiring them to help you. Trust your gut. If you feel any red flags in your gut, don’t move forward. Sometimes therapy makes us uncomfortable and that is good, but if there is something other than therapy process about the person you doubt, that’s okay, take your time. Thank the individual and say you are going to interview a few other therapists and will get back to them. Finally, good for you for seeking therapy! We can all benefit from counseling at some point in our lives. It enhances our wellbeing and helps us overcome challenges that have left their mark. It’s a sign of strength to seek therapy. Enjoy the adventure!