Thinking about psychotherapy? Here’s what you should know.
Meeting with a new psychotherapist for the first time can be daunting. Maybe it’s the first time you’ve tried therapy, and you’re not sure what to expect.
You might be apprehensive about sharing personal details with a mental health professional and want to prepare for what a therapist might ask. At the same time, you’ll want to develop your own questions to make sure your new therapist is the right one for you.
“There are many reasons that cause people to seek support. You don’t have to be in crisis to seek therapy,” says Dr. Munther Barakat, director of behavioral health at Aurora Behavioral Health Center in Wauwatosa, Wis. “A mental health professional can offer support when you’re dealing with life challenges and provide coping techniques and constructive ways to deal with situations. Talking with a therapist can help you gain a better understanding of yourself. When searching for a provider, it’s smart to create a list of questions to help you evaluate if your new therapist is a good match.”
Here are some questions to evaluate the therapist’s training, experience, expertise and approach:
- What licenses and certifications do you have, and how long have you been practicing?
- What type of therapy do you do? An example is talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
- What is your general approach? Are you more directive or guiding?
- When was the last time you worked with someone like me, and how many patients have you worked with who have similar issues?
- What is a typical session like? How long are the sessions?
- How will we work together to establish goals and evaluate progress? How often would you anticipate seeing me? For how long?
- How much do you charge, and are there sliding-scale options?
Your initial session is an opportunity to discuss concerns in more detail, including what prompted you to seek treatment and what you are looking for in therapy. Your psychotherapy provider will ask for your medical history, so it’s a good idea to bring along information about your health issues and current and past medications.
If you’ve been in therapy in the past, your provider will help you explore what has been helpful and discuss your goals for treatment. If you are struggling with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, your therapist may suggest an integrated approach that features both psychotherapy and medications, and coordinate your care with a psychiatrist.
After a discussion, you can assess how you feel about the provider. Do you feel like they respect you and honor your perspective? Do they have experience with your mental health condition?
“You have the power to choose a therapist whom you trust,” says Dr. Barakat. “A good therapist will have your best interests in mind and provide empathy, acceptance and encouragement. Working with the right therapist should inspire you to take action to improve your life.”
Seeking a therapist may seem like a challenge, but the first hurdle is getting help. With some research and preparation, you can set yourself up for success with a new therapist.
About the Author
Bonnie Farber, health enews contributor, is a communications professional in the Public Affairs and Marketing Operations Department at Advocate Aurora Health. Her experience includes integrated product marketing in the biotechnology field, strategic communications at American Family Insurance and UW Credit Union, and marketing communications consulting for non-profit organizations in Wisconsin and Minnesota. She holds a degree in History from University of Wisconsin-Madison and enjoys playing music in a Brazilian percussion band and volunteering for a listener-sponsored radio station in her free time.