Finding a therapist can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time. Looking for a therapist who meets all your unique needs is hard enough, but once you’ve found someone, what are you supposed to say?
Sometimes, knowing what to expect—or what’s expected of you—when walking into (or joining an appointment virtually) that first appointment can bring on a whole new set of anxieties. Below are some questions to ask your new therapist to help prepare yourself for the first session and beyond.
Questions to ask before your first meeting with a new therapist
1. Do you take insurance?
Before deciding to meet with a therapist, it’s important to know how much it will cost you. Ask your therapist if they take your insurance, and, if not, whether they offer alternative payment options, like sliding scale fees.
2. Do you offer telehealth appointments?
Some therapists only offer telehealth, some only offer in-person appointments (when it’s safe to do so), and some offer a mix in between. Determining a therapist’s meeting capabilities, and whether they work for your schedule and comfort level, will help narrow down the search.
3. How does scheduling work for your practice?
Are you able to book online? How often are you expected to see this therapist? What are their practice’s policies regarding cancellations and missed appointments? These are all great questions to ensure that this therapist will fit into your schedule.
4. What is your experience with treating my issue?
Just like you’d want a dermatologist to check out your funky freckle instead of a cardiologist, you want your therapist to have experience treating your specific concerns. And if you don’t know exactly what’s wrong, that’s totally okay.
Describe your concerns to your potential therapist and then ask if they’ve worked with anyone who felt similarly. If this therapist doesn’t feel like they are the right fit to treat your specific issue, they will often refer you to someone who is.
5. What makes you different from other mental health professionals that treat my problem?
There are a lot of therapists who treat anxiety, or depression, or any other mental health issue. While therapists abide by tried-and-true therapy approaches and a code of ethics, every mental health professional has their own approach to therapy.
6. What’s your style like?
Different therapists also have different styles of session engagement. Licensed marriage and family therapist Ben Caldwell suggests asking if they listen or talk more during a session, or if they assign homework between sessions.
“This is also a good opportunity to voice your own preferences—that can be important to you and the therapist alike in determining whether you’re a good fit,” says Dr. Caldwell.
7. Is there anything I need to do to prepare for my first session?
If you’ve decided to move forward and book an appointment with this therapist, they may have some tasks for you to complete before your first session. Whether it’s filling out medical forms, gathering information on your family’s medical history, or simply taking some deep breaths before the appointment starts, your therapist will likely have a few tips to ensure your first session goes as smoothly as possible.
Questions to ask during your first session
1. Is there anyone you’d like to talk to about my history?
Sometimes, therapists will want to talk with people in your life to get more information. Talking with your doctor, family, or friends can provide a therapist with more context. It’s okay if you don’t want them to, and they will never talk to anyone without your permission.
2. How long should I expect therapy to last?
Your therapist should be able to give you a general idea of how long treatment should last. Remember, this is just a guideline based on what the therapist knows so far, and is by no means set in stone. Dr. Caldwell notes that you should ask this question “understanding that it can be impacted by a lot of things along the way, and that you need to hold up your end of the bargain.”
3. When should I begin to see progress?
Therapy isn’t a quick fix, which can be discouraging. Asking your therapist for an estimated timeline of progress, or what progress will look like, can help maintain motivation. Like a treatment plan, a progress timeline is fluid because it depends on a lot of different factors. Having a general expectation of progress helps when determining whether this therapist or type of therapy is working.
4. In addition to therapy, what else can I be doing?
Therapy is a major step in improving your mental health, but attending appointments with a therapist is not the only step. Some therapists assign homework between sessions as part of your treatment plan, and others will suggest trying things like journaling, mindfulness techniques, or exercise to help improve your mental health outside of your appointment.
5. What are your initial thoughts on my concerns?
Towards the end of the session, Dr. Caldwell suggests asking “Based on what I’ve told you so far, what do you think? Do you have any ideas about why this might be happening?” Getting your therapist’s initial thoughts ensures your therapist understands what you’ve told them, and it can be comforting to know that someone has ideas of how to help after only one session.
6. What is the best way to contact you in between sessions?
Different mental health professionals have different philosophies about contact between sessions. Some only allow it in case of emergency, some have a client portal that you can use during business hours, and some will text clients whenever. It’s important to leave your meeting with a clear understanding of the communication boundaries.
There is no right or wrong question to ask your therapist, though they may not be able to answer some of your more personal ones. Your therapist wants you to feel as comfortable as possible, and you should ask them anything you want to know to feel more relaxed. Asking questions to find the right therapist and remain fully informed throughout your therapy journey is an important part of improving your mental health.