Scripps Ranch and Bankers Hill Therapist Sara Cole.
12 Important Questions To Ask a Potential Therapist (+ 3 Bonus Questions To Ask During A Pandemic)
By Sara Cole MFT
1. What type of license do you have to provide therapy?
It is important that a therapist have a valid license to practice in the state where you are. It is also a good idea to know the difference between some of the most common types of licenses. Most importantly, keep in mind that a life coach is NOT a therapist and does not have the training or license that an MFT, LCSW, PSy.D or Ph.D has.
2. Do you have any specializations? Do you specialize in the issues I am having?
It is important that a therapist have experience working with the problem you are looking for help with. For some issues there is extra training therapists can do to become an expert.
3. How would you work with the type of issue I am having?
Asking this question will allow you to see if the therapist’s approach feels like something you would be comfortable with. The answer to this question will also give you a feel for the therapist’s understanding of the issue you are presenting.
4. How long have you been practicing? How long have you been licensed?
While time alone is not an indicator of quality, it will give you an idea if this therapist has at least some experience. Also, therapists with less experience should be less expensive which may also be a factor for you to keep in mind. In the end, the most important thing is the connection you feel to a therapist and your comfort level in working with them.
5. Have you had any complaints filed against you?
This could be a red flag. If yes, what was the complaint and what was the outcome? A complaint itself may be just that or it may have resulted in the therapist being found guilty of a wrong doing.
6. Do you have a specific approach you use in therapy?
Some therapists have chosen to specialize in working with one approach such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Narrative Therapy or EMDR are examples of some of the many theories or approaches. Other therapists work from a range of theories and perspectives based on what you are looking for and what you need. It’s good to know this about your therapists as it will greatly influence how they work with you and how they understand the issues you are working on.
7. What is your fee?
This is important to ask so that there are no surprises during your first session and the fee may also be a factor in your deciding on a therapist.
8. How long are your sessions? How often would you want to see me?
Typically, a therapy session lasts from 45-50 minutes and is referred to as a therapeutic hour. However, there are therapists who offer longer sessions so that you have the opportunity to get more done in a single session. This is something worth asking about.
9. Do you offer online or phone sessions if I am unable to come to the office?
Not all therapists do this. It’s a great alternative to missing a session if you are ill or out of town.
10. What is not private and confidential about what we do?
All therapists are required to keep your information and what you talk about in session, confidential. There are a couple of legal exceptions to these laws and those are that a therapist is mandated to report if they suspect child abuse or elder abuse or that you intend to hurt yourself or someone else. These very specific exceptions are in place to ensure safety.
If you are doing couples or family therapy, it may be important for you to talk with your therapist about how confidentiality works in terms of family members or partners.
11. I’ve never been in therapy before. What will it be like?
Asking this question gives you another opportunity to see how this therapist works and to get a feel for what a session might be like.
12. Do you think you can help me?
Your faith in your therapist and your therapist's attitude toward the work you will do, is so important.Working with a therapist that has confidence in your ability to be successful is so so important.
Bonus Questions for the Pandemic...
1. What is telehealth, teletherapy or online therapy?
Teletherapy or online therapy is just what it sounds like. It is therapy that is done over a secure video platform. Therapist and client still see one another and have a private and confidential session. Teletherapy can be useful in a number of situations. It eliminates any need for transportation to and from an appointment, it maintains physical safety when spread of an airborne virus is of high concern, it allows people to access therapy even if medically or physically fragile or restricted. A person can choose to do their session with their therapist from anywhere. All that is required is a confidential location like an office, your car or even on a quiet park bench and the ability to sign on at the time of session. The really great news is that several studies have shown that teletherapy can be as therapeutically effective as in person therapy. YAY!
2. Why are most therapists only offering online sessions right now?(what are you offering?)
This is a really important question to ask. It will give you a good idea of how a therapist views the pandemic and the level of caution they find appropriate. That can help you see if the therapist alignes with your concerns and thoughts about distancing, virus spread, etc.
Most licensing boards are recommending all sessions be provided online at this time, in order to maintain health and safety of therapist and client. Scientists are making these same recommendations.
I have decided to only provide online sessions for now for a few reasons. I have considered the level of risk of an in person session which involves being in an enclosed indoor space facing another person and talking to one another for 60 minutes. The extended amount of time, the closeness, the shared air and presence of aerosol hanging in the air all raise the level of risk significantly. Also considering the facts that many people who are carrying and spreading the virus are asymptomatic means that they don't even know they are sick and spreading the virus to all they come into contact with. One other piece I want to keep in mind is that I don't know who else a client may have had contact with and they don't know about me. We may be potentially spreading virus to vulnerable people like the elderly or medically compromised individuals. And lastly, we just don't know all that much about Covid19 and its lasting effects at this point.
I miss in person sessions and can't wait until it feels safe to return to the office, but for now the health and safety of myself and others is more important.
3. How can you support me through something no one has gone through before?
I love this questions because it is something I asked myself early on in the shutdown and gave a lot of thought. I think based on background, training and personality, therapists will answer this in a number of different ways. It will give you a really good information about how a therapist can or can't provide the kind of support you need and want.
Because of the training and experience I have in treating trauma and big life changes, along with self care, I have been providing clients with many of the same tools I already recommend. I have also been using them myself as I adjust to so many new ways of living our daily life. When things feel out of control and overwhelming and scary, it always helps to remember the things you do have control over and focus on those. It also helps to set small goals for yourself that you can accomplish. Getting creative is also a great way to move from being frozen and into action. Create new ways to connect with friends, learn a new skill you always wanted to try, etc. Concrete skills like these along with emotional support and help with anxiety, depression, stress, fear etc. is what is helping us all move through these uncharted waters and find peace in new and sometimes very old ways.
Asking questions like these will help you to get a feel for a potential therapist. No therapist is the right person for everyone, so finding a therapist that feels like a good fit is vastly important. This will then help ensure that you are able to get the most out of therapy.
Sara Cole MFT is a San Diego therapist online and with offices in Bankers Hill and Scripps Ranch (when there isn't a pandemic happening). To find out how she may be able to help you as you strive to live your best life, go to www.saracolemft.com, email her at email@example.com or call 619-316-3171.
2/9/2022 09:52:40 pm
You made an interesting point that when looking to have a psychologist hired, it is important that we consider their credentials, specifically their certification as it indicates their qualifications. It is important that we are mindful of their qualifications when choosing a psychologist as it will impact our treatment and sessions. I will definitely be more mindful of their credentials before choosing a psychologist.
5/24/2022 07:59:10 am
I want to find a psychiatrist, but I'm not sure how to choose one. It makes sense that I would want to find a psychiatrist how has the proper licensing. That way, I can ensure that I get the correct mental health care.
6/17/2022 02:26:52 pm
My younger brother deals with depression in his daily life, and he wants to try therapy to see if it helps. I am glad you mentioned how the comfort level and connection you have with a potential therapist is the most important thing to consider. I'll share this with my brother so he can find a therapist that he trusts.
It got me when you talked about teletherapy and how it will eliminate our need for transportation and appointment. I can suggest this to my sister when she starts looking for a psychologist to help her with her anxiety and depression. Although she hasn't been diagnosed, yet, she has been telling us the signs are present in her that is why she thinks she needs help by now.
10/27/2022 09:59:33 pm
I love the idea that we can opt for teletherapy wherein we can have our sessions anywhere I am. Since I have a busy schedule, I can benefit from this kind of psychologist service, especially when I have to travel for some appointments. I just think that I already need an expert's help to work on my temper and anger issues which my husband has been telling me about. And I am just lucky that he is so patient with me.
11/3/2022 12:56:18 am
It is important that a therapist have a valid license to practice because a license is an indication that the therapist has met certain standards and has the knowledge and skills necessary to provide safe and effective therapy. Without a license, a therapist may not be held accountable for their actions and may not be subject to the same standards as licensed therapists. This could put clients at risk of harm. In addition, therapists who are not licensed may not have access to the same resources as licensed therapists, which could limit the quality of care they are able to provide.
11/8/2022 05:17:03 pm
Thanks so much for the help with a few questions to ask a potential therapist. I've been struggling with my anxiety a lot more than usual so I've been in the market for a therapist. This will be a huge help in finding someone who is the right fit for me.
11/30/2022 04:24:48 pm
I spoke with my older sister a few days ago, and I'm concerned about depressed she looked and how much weight she had dropped overnight. That's why I want to suggest she works with a therapist next time I see her, and your article could help us find one when the time comes. Thank you for describing how a therapist uses different approaches in therapy and why we should ask about them.
1/17/2023 09:54:49 pm
You made a good point when you said it was crucial for a therapist to have prior expertise in treating the issue you need assistance with. My friend struggles with low self-esteem. I'll advise her to seek out counseling services with relevant experience.
3/21/2023 01:33:21 pm
It was really helpful when you said to find one that has experience with problems like mine. My depression has been getting worse for the past couple of months, so I wanted to look into finding a therapist so that I can find good coping mechanisms and have someone to talk to. I appreciate you helping me learn these tips on how to find a good therapist!
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Sara Cole has been providing mental health services in San Diego for over 15 years. Sara specializes in working with women and teen girls to overcome trauma and major life changes, including postpartum depression, going away to college, marriage, etc. Sara also loves to help people get their anxiety under control. She is also passionate about providing treatment to those whose lives are affected by the addiction of a loved one.