Many therapists offer free consultations before beginning treatment. This is a chance for you to get to know them and see if you want to work with them. I've seen quite a few articles talking about how to find a good therapist and what questions to ask during a consultation. However, many of them are, in my opinion, not relevant for most people. For example, many posts recommend you ask a therapist about their treatment modality. But if you've never studied psychology, social work, or another mental health-related field, and you've never been to therapy before, how would asking a potential therapist about their treatment modality help? If the therapist tells you they use "Interpersonal Therapy", how does that tell you whether they are a good fit for you or whether they are good at what they do?
Of course there are exceptions. If you have been to therapy before, maybe even for extended periods of time, such a question may actually be very useful for you because you have more experience and understand what those terms mean and are more likely to know what sort of approach you are looking for. But for most people, having a therapist name their treatment modality is rather meaningless.
So what might you ask instead? No worries, I am here to help and give you ideas. Please adjust my ideas to fit your own personality and liking. This is not a magic formula that should be followed with complete accuracy. I am creating this list simply to give you ideas. And like you hopefully just saw, depending on your familiarity with therapy and knowledge in the field, you absolutely will have to adjust what you are asking your potential therapist.
1. Give the therapist some very surface-level background on your situation or tell them why you are reaching out for therapy (I know... this is not actually a question).
You might be unsure about whether you have generalized anxiety, social anxiety, PTSD, depression, dysthymia, or OCD. That is completely fine and not expected of you. Simply sharing some background information about your concerns or why you are seeking therapy is more than enough at this point. This information allows your potential therapist to assess whether they have the expertise to help you with your needs. This initial step can be pivotal for your future success! For instance, if you exhibit severe symptoms of OCD, but your therapist doesn't specialize in OCD treatment, you'd likely want them to be transparent about their limitations in this area. Similarly, if you're struggling with severe depressive symptoms, but your therapist primarily deals with mild to moderate depression, you'd likely prefer if they help you find someone better suited to assist you. Providing some details about yourself gives a potential therapist the chance to determine if they are the right fit for you. The free consultation therapists offer is as much about you finding a good fit for yourself as it is for a therapist to evaluate whether they are competent in helping you.
2. Ok, here is the actual first question: What experience do you have with clients dealing with similar issues?
I assume you can understand why I began with a "non-question" earlier. After providing some background information about yourself, asking, "What experience do you have with clients dealing with similar issues?" is an open-ended question that provides your potential therapist with the opportunity to share their experience. Their response will assist you in assessing whether they can help you.
3. What do therapy sessions with you look like?
This is a great question to begin finding out what working with the therapist might look like, and whether you would appreciate their style of therapy. Some therapists are very passive and ask a lot of questions to learn about you, your emotions, your past, your relationships, etc. They might also be very skilled at asking follow-up questions to make sure you can continue processing through your experiences. Other therapists might be more active and focus on helping you find practical solutions and learning new skills to help you deal with the challenges you experience. Also, some therapists are very structured and have things prepared for every single session you attend. It is almost like they are following a specific protocol. If you have difficulties knowing what to address or talk about in therapy, this might be very helpful for you. Other therapists rely on you to bring and address difficulties you experience and want to work through. They trust in you being the expert on your life and in you knowing what would be most helpful for you to progress in your mental health journey. I myself lean toward the latter category, while also being somewhat more structured during sessions when people want to work through, e.g., performance anxiety or performance related panic attacks, PTSD symptoms, or religious OCD.
What works best for you and what you want to get out of therapy, only you can know. This is why question 3 is probably one of the best ones to ask. A lot of follow-up questions can stem from that question if you don't get a good sense of the therapist's work. You could directly ask whether they give "homework," whether they focus more on understanding your past, or whether they focus on helping you deal with your current situation. Some people want help uncovering the hidden deeply rooted issues they have, while others want to know how to fix what they are going through now.
4. How are you different from other therapists?
I personally don't think this question is "essential," but it can be a fantastic follow-up to question 3 and can help you determine whether their style is likely a good fit for you. Therapists generally have a good idea regarding how most therapists engage in therapy. Them telling you how they are different can provide you with helpful information about their unique personality and approach. For example, I might answer such a question by letting you know that I'm more practical than most therapists, that I am secular-based (which can be an important distinction for many of my Utah clients), and that I incorporate more humor and/or sarcasm than most. I worked at a prison for a while, and a psychologist who had worked there for a few decades let me know how refreshing it was to hear my clients laugh with me because she had't heard inmates laugh in therapy for many years.
5. What are your sessions fees and/or do you accept my insurance?
Therapy can be very expensive, and it is a big investment in your mental health. For this reason, asking about fees and insurance is very important. Most therapists post on all their profiles and websites what insurances they accept, and some also post their session fees (I currently do both). Hopefully, you will already know the answers to question 5 before your consultation with a therapist. But if you don't, now is the time to ask!
Before beginning therapy, you might also call your own insurance to ask about out-of-network benefits. This might open you up to many more therapist options than only those in-network who currently have openings. Some insurances have excellent out-of-network benefits, and you'd only pay $5 extra per session. Some insurances have no out-of-network benefits at all.
Most commonly, when people set up consultation appointments with me, the primary reason they don't end up working with me is because I don't accept their insurance. So again, best practice is to check a therapist's website and profiles for this information before scheduling a free consultation, but if you didn't have the chance to do so, now is the time to ask.
6. How often do you usually meet with clients?
This question can elicit two types of answers, both of which are important.
Does your potential therapist mainly work with short-term clients or long-term clients? Do they generally meet with people for many months and years, or do they have a quicker turnaround because their work focuses on short-term needs.
Do they meet with clients weekly, every other week, or monthly? Could they see clients more than once a week if that is what you are looking for? Some practices only let clients see them every other week or less frequently. So if you want to see a therapist more regularly, you want to make sure they accommodate that.
7. How quickly can I start seeing you for treatment?
Some therapists will do a consult with you and only afterward inform you that they have a 3-month waiting list. I'd actually recommend asking question 7 before even doing a consult. Personally, in my own therapy practice, I don't schedule consults unless I can see a potential new client within the next week.
Scheduling a Free Consultation
In my opinion, you are now ready for a consultation with a potential therapist! The list of questions I provided will help most people looking for a good therapist. Yet, everyone is different, so please adjust the questions and add anything you want to fit your needs.
To schedule a consult, many therapists ask you to give them a call or send them an email. Some therapists let you schedule consultations online through a scheduling software. If you are interested in having a consultation with me, may I kindly ask you to check through my website to learn more about me and my specialty areas. You can then schedule a consult online by clicking here. If no times show up as available, that most likely means that I have a waitlist. You can still reach out by calling or texting 385-200-0204 or emailing me at email@example.com. I can let you know how long my waitlist is and can get you added if you are interested.