Basic questions to ask that will help you decide if a therapist is right for you include:
1. "What expertise do they have with my type of problem?"
Although the therapist doesn't necessarily need to have had experience in helping with your exact problem, she or he should be at least familiar with your type of situation and be prepared to tell you how they've helped others in similar circumstances.
2. "What do they think is usually the cause of most people's problems?"
There are many ways to approach people's problems. Depending on their personal background, training, and preferences, therapists have different ways of approaching problems. Some look to childhood events, some to the interrelationship of family members, others to faulty thinking, bad habits, or societal and cultural influences. You may want to find a therapist who's beliefs are at least somewhat in sync with your own views. Research indicates that the most important part of counseling is in the relationship between client(s) and the therapist.
3. "What is their fee?"
First check with your insurance company to see which providers are covered under your plan; Ask about any out of pocket expense which may be your portion of the fee such as your co-pay or any co-insurance that your policy requires you to be responsible for. Understand that if your deductible is not met you will be responsible for the full session fee. Speak with your counselor about the fees and determine if you are able to comfortably afford the therapist's fee, adjustments maybe possible. Most offices will work with you on the fees associated with counseling.
4. "What would my appointment schedule be?"
If time is a factor (e.g., if your only availability for appointments is on Monday evenings, or every other week), you should make sure that the therapist can accommodate your requirements - and will be comfortable working with you on that basis.
Although you might be feeling nervous during this initial conversation with the therapist, it can still offer an opportunity to evaluate how clearly you are able to communicate with one another and if the therapist client relationship is a good “fit”. Remember, you are the one doing the choosing.
During your first meeting with the therapist, pay attention to how you feel talking with them, are you fairly comfortable in the therapeutic setting they've created? Note if you feel they are paying attention to how you feel and how their style of responding to you and sharing information makes you feel. Although making yourself vulnerable to another human being can be anxiety provoking, notice how you feel as the session progresses, including changes in your level of ease, the amount information you share and the seriousness of information you share.
The foundation of good therapy is the relationship you and the therapist build together. The therapy relationship is not a friendship; however, the best results come when you trust your therapist and feel comfortable with him or her. Because this relationship is going to be crucial to the effectiveness of your therapy, it is important you find someone with whom you feel comfortable with, someone who you feel understood by, a therapist who creates and maintains an environment within which you can be able to open up and be honest about the issues that you are facing. If you withhold information, you slow the process down; in fact you may cheat yourself out of making real progress. Just like with any relationship, you and your therapist may not "click". If not, you owe it to yourself and your therapist, to say so, you won't hurt the therapist feelings, they only want you to get the help you need and will even help you with referrals of other therapists.
Most types of therapy include talking and listening, building trust, and receiving support and guidance. Sometimes therapists may recommend books for people to read or work through. They may also suggest keeping a journal. Some people prefer to express themselves using art or drawing. Others feel more comfortable just talking. When a person talks to a therapist about which situations might be difficult for them or what stresses them out, this helps the therapist assess what is going on. The therapist and client then usually work together to set therapy goals and figure out what will help the person feel better or get back on track.
It might take a few meetings with a therapist before people really feel like they can share personal stuff. It's natural to feel that way. Trust is an essential ingredient in therapy - after all, therapy involves being open and honest about sensitive topics like feelings, ideas, relationships, problems, disappointments, and hopes. A therapist understands that people sometimes take a while to feel comfortable sharing personal information.
Most of the time, a person meets with a therapist one on one, which is known as individual therapy. Sometimes, though, a therapist might work with a couple or family (called couples therapy or family therapy) or a group of people who all are dealing with similar issues (called group therapy or a support group). Family therapy gives family members a chance to talk together with a therapist about problems that involve them all. Group therapy and support groups help people give and receive support and learn from each other and their therapist by discussing the issues they have in common.
If you see a therapist, he or she will talk with you about your feelings, thoughts, relationships, and important values. At the beginning, therapy sessions are focused on discussing what you'd like to work on and setting goals. Some of the goals people in therapy may set include things like:
improving self-esteem and gaining confidence
figuring out how to make more friends or be more social
improving relationships in your life
improving communication skills
improving decision making skills
improving how you manage daily stressors
feeling less depressed or less anxious
improving grades at school or work performance
learning to manage anger and frustration
making healthier choices (for example, about relationships or eating) and ending self-defeating behaviors
During the first visit, your therapist will probably ask you to talk a bit about yourself. Depending on your age, the therapist will also likely meet with a parent or caregiver and ask you to review information regarding confidentiality. The first meeting can last longer than the usual "therapy hour" and is often called an "intake interview." This helps the therapist understand you better, and gives you a chance to see if you feel comfortable with the therapist. The therapist will probably ask about problems, concerns, and symptoms that you may be having, or the problems that parents or teachers are concerned about.
After one or two sessions, the therapist may talk to you about his or her understanding of what is going on with you, how therapy could help, and what the process will involve. Together, you and your therapist will decide on the goals for therapy and how frequently to meet. This may be once a week, every other week, or once a month. With a better understanding of your situation, the therapist might teach you new skills or help you to think about a situation in a new way. For example, therapists can help people develop better relationship skills or coping skills, including ways to build confidence, express feelings, or manage anger.
Sticking to the schedule you agree on with your therapist and going to your appointments will ensure you have enough time with your therapist to work out your concerns. If your therapist suggests a schedule that you don't think you'll be able to keep, be up front about it so you can work out an alternative. What brought you to therapy is causing some sort of problem in your life and understandably it may be difficult to talk or think about the issues you need to deal with in therapy. Because of this you may feel like "blowing off" your therapy appointments when things get harder, this is harmful not only to yourself in working through your concerns but to the relationship you are building with your therapist. A good therapist will require you to show up for your appointments and be responsible and respectful by calling to inform the office if you can not make the appointment as scheduled. Most agencies have a cancellation policy that you are asked to follow and may require you pay your session fee even if you do not attend it if you did not adhere to their policies which should have been explained to you during the first visit. If you are feeling like you need a break that is something to talk with the therapist about, and it can be worked into the course of your treatment if it is determined to be of need or to be beneficial to your progress. It should not be self determined and you should not simply stop coming. This may be an indicator to your therapist that you are not serious in your commitment to make positive change. Unlike your general physician office therapist block off the time you schedule your appointment for just for you and when you "blow off" your therapy there is not another client that is able to benefit from the therapist freed up time. This is most often also true when you call to cancel on the same day of your appointment. Many agencies will allow you a few forgetful moments, especially during the beginning of therapy, but as you develop the routine of your appointments, when you do not show up or you beginning canceling or moving your appointments around the therapist may request that you and he or she re-evaluate your desire to work through your concerns.
Therapists respect the privacy of their clients and they keep things they're told confidential. A therapist won't tell anyone else - including parents - about what a person discusses in his or her sessions unless that person gives permission. This is important for you to understand fully that even a spouse, significant other or parent can not call on your be half to inquire on, reschedule or cancel an appointment for you, unless on your first visit you have given the written permission for the individual to have that power and allow the sharing of your status as a client of the agency with that individual. The only exception is if therapists believe their clients may harm themselves or others.
If the issue of privacy and confidentiality worries you, be sure to ask your therapist about it during your first meeting. It's important to feel comfortable with your therapist so you can talk openly about your situation.
In fact, many people you know have probably seen a therapist at some point. Getting help in dealing with emotions and stressful situations is as important to your overall health as getting help with a medical problem like asthma or diabetes.
There's nothing wrong with getting help with problems that are hard to solve alone. In fact, it's just the opposite. It takes a lot of courage and maturity to look for solutions to problems instead of ignoring, avoiding or hiding them and allowing them to become worse. If you think that therapy could help you with a problem the best thing you can do for yourself is to find a good therapist, just remember they will help to resolve your concern not fix them for you.
People can still resist the idea of therapy because they don't fully understand it or have outdated ideas about it. A couple of generations ago, people didn't know as much about the mind or the mind-body connection as they do today, and people were left to struggle with their problems on their own. It used to be that therapy was only available to those with the most serious mental health problems, but that's no longer the case.
Therapy is helpful to people of all ages and with problems that range from mild to much more serious. Some people still hold on to old beliefs about therapy, such as thinking that teens "will grow out of" their problems or that once you hit a certain age you too old to change.
You don't have to hide the fact that you're going to a therapist, but you also don't have to tell anyone if you'd prefer not to. Some people find that talking to a few close friends about their therapy helps them to work out their problems and feel like they're not alone. Other people choose not to tell anyone, especially if they feel that others won't understand. Either way, it's a personal decision. Should you see your therapist in a setting that is outside of the office you must understand your therapist will not acknowledge that they know you unless you speak to them, it is part of the confidential relationship you have. You may have to explain to someone you do not wish to that that person is my therapist and that decision is to be made by you, so the therapist should not put you in that situation. This is important to know so that you don't feel as if you were being ignored, dismissed or avoided by your therapist. They simply are following the confidentially standards of their job. You may choose to acknowledge them at which point they are free to speak to you, not about you.
What someone gets out of therapy depends on why that person is there. For example, some people go to therapy to solve a specific problem, others want to begin making better choices, or gain skills that they may feel they lack and others want to start to heal from a loss or a difficult life situation.
Therapy can help people feel better, be stronger, and make good choices as well as discover more about themselves. Those who work with therapists might learn about motivations that lead them to behave in certain ways or about inner strengths they have. Maybe you'll learn new coping skills, develop more patience, learn to express yourself better or learn to like yourself better. Maybe you'll find new ways to handle problems that come up or new ways to handle yourself in tough situations.
People who work with therapists often find that they learn a lot about themselves and that therapy can help them grow and mature. Lots of people discover that the tools they learn in therapy make them feel stronger and better able to deal with whatever life throws at them even young or old.