Odds are, if you’re reading this article you’ve either heard, “Maybe you should see a therapist,” “I love my therapist! Do you want to check them out?” or you’re beginning to consider starting therapy of your own accord. No matter what’s gotten you to this moment, take a deep breath! Finding a therapist is a journey, but in being here at this moment you have successfully taken the first — and hardest — step! Congratulations!
This article can help guide you through some questions to ask both yourself and your new therapist. As I always like to disclaim, these words are not gospel — but they’re non-exhaustive suggestions for ways you can ensure finding the right therapist for your needs, desires, and goals (often known as client-therapist fit).
As a therapist writing this article, I acknowledge that these suggestions may seem easier said than done — but know that many of us as therapists have been (and still are) right where you are. I know I’ve been! Even though the process of finding the right client-therapist fit may seem initially daunting, the benefits will outweigh the initial discomfort. My therapists have changed my life, and I extend much gratitude towards them — and myself — for embarking on that journey. So before we begin exploring what questions to ask, just know that you are not alone.
I encourage you to take a moment and thank yourself for embodying the courage to begin this therapeutic journey, and for prioritizing your well-being in finding someone that is going to support you with unconditional positive regard (a term deemed by Carl Rogers, founder of Person-Centered Therapy, that essentially means an unwavering support grounded in consistent respect and autonomy).
The guidance that follows will begin with reminders of your own worth on this therapeutic journey, lead to suggestions on screening for the right fit on your initial search, and will end with questions to ask once you’ve completed your first intake with a therapist.
Sense of safety
The most important step in finding the right therapist is to know that this will be your space and no one else’s! Thus, it’s deeply important that your therapist is someone you can feel safe, comfortable, and unapologetically yourself with. Of course, it takes time to establish a therapeutic rapport with each other in the beginning, especially depending on the frequency of your sessions (e.g. weekly or biweekly), but that bond is usually strengthened with each session.
Something I hope to instill with this article is the empowerment to speak up about your needs, ask questions, and feel safe with the disclosures you make from moment one. Therapists are trained to understand that client fit is the most successful predictor of positive therapeutic outcomes. Thus, it’s key to know that you are the most important person in the therapeutic dynamic. Therapists are aware of the power dynamic that might loom in the therapy room. However, we’re there to guide you — not dictate you. You know your own life and story the best, and as such you have every right to screen us for being worthy of the immense responsibility (and honor) of holding each disclosure safely.
Aside from the trusted and popular search engines, there are ways to search for therapists that offer more specific ways to find someone who best fits your needs. Websites such as Psychology Today, Zocdoc, and Zencare offer the ability to filter your search by gender identity, sexuality, race, modality, and presenting concern (e.g. depression, anxiety, trauma). These platforms offer an easy way to see a therapist’s experience, primary focus, and areas of expertise. You can also hop over to meet our team here at Humantold and speak with our wonderful intake coordinators! Regardless, it’s still important to ask the questions below with anyone you find.
Doubts and hesitations – let’s get real!
Listen, let’s take a moment and be real here! It’s okay that you might be doubtful, hesitant, or annoyed at the thought of vulnerably sharing any piece of your life with some stranger. I get it. I’ve been there, and I hear this from my clients often. It’s natural to want to let someone in slowly — if at all. You do not have to be completely free of these doubts before being “ready” for therapy. In fact, part of therapy can include working through those doubts and hesitation! Openness and honesty about these concerns can be an entry point for great therapeutic work. Being who you are is vital!
Questions to ask yourself
- What goals do I want to achieve in therapy (e.g. improve self-confidence, deal with heartbreak, improve overall mental health focus, cope with stress, process grief, feel happier, make a big life decision, etc.)?
- What am I willing to do in between therapy sessions to achieve those goals (e.g. homework)? Am I ready to put in at least 80% effort?
- How do I want my therapist to support, challenge, and/or validate me?
- Is it important to me that my therapist shares my identities? Some of them? None of them?
- Am I comfortable with in-person, or do I want virtual sessions only?
- What do I want to feel like when my therapist and I are in a session?
- Do you want to be able to curse or laugh with your therapist?
- Do you want to be in collaboration with your therapist, or have them lead?
Initial questions and concerns for your therapy intake
- How can you help me achieve my therapeutic goals?
- How do you practice therapy? What is your modality?
- A therapeutic modality is a treatment that a therapist chooses to practice. Each modality has a different approach in working with diagnosis and has its own empirical research backings. Many modern therapists practice as eclectic therapists, meaning they utilize more than one modality (i.e., a therapist may utilize both Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Person-Centered Therapy depending on the needs of the client each session).
- The answer to this question may support you in understanding question 2 in the above section. However, remember to be open minded. Sometimes, it’s beneficial for your therapist to challenge you in new ways in between sessions.
- Any cultural, religious, or identity awareness questions that may be important to you and weren’t met with initial filtering searches (e.g. “What is your understanding about my religion?” “How do you back up the statement of ‘I am an LGBTQIA2S+ ally’ on your Psychology Today profile?”)
- How often can you meet? What are the differences between the frequency of sessions?
- Have you worked with my concerns before?
Therapists will share what they are able to in response to your questions — however, remember this is your space! Therapists are trained to ensure there is nothing that takes away from you feeling this, which may lead to minimal and brief responses. Additionally, therapists cannot immediately know or understand everything you may want them to. However, the important thing is how they communicate that to you. Do they still make you feel safe and heard? Have they offered to obtain more information because it is meaningful to you? Have they acknowledged their limitations, and are you okay with them? Remember, therapists are humans, too — but how you feel about how they hold the therapeutic space is of utmost importance.
The end goal
Overall, the goal is to find a therapist who answers all of your questions honestly and with responses you feel comfortable with. If you still don’t feel safe or supported after several sessions, or if they make statements that just don’t connect with your values, that might indicate it’s time to start thinking about searching for another therapist. You can reach back out to an intake department at your practice or begin a new online search.
However, don’t feel discouraged! In the same way that we all connect with different kinds of people in our personal lives, we also connect with different therapists that present a variety of modalities and personalities. Finding the appropriate therapist for you can lead you to the most successful outcome. Think of it like a recipe that just needs a few ingredient changes before becoming the most delectable treat you’ve ever had.
Therapists are aware that not every client will find working with us beneficial, and a therapist may even offer to help you find someone that better fits your needs if this discussion comes up in session. Simply put, you don't have to worry about the therapist’s feelings if you choose to find someone else. There are few decisions in life that are as individualized, personal, and empowering as a client-therapist relationship — and you deserve to find your perfect match.