Questions to Ask Your Therapist
Monday, September 21 2015 Becky Oberg
You may have many questions to ask your therapist when you start therapy. This is a good thing--you are entering treatment and you have a right to know what to expect (Should Psychiatric patients Have A Right To See Their Files?). You wouldn't go to any other kind of medical treatment without doing research into your condition, your treatment provider, and what your prognosis may be. So why should therapy be any different? Here are some questions to ask your therapist and why you should ask them.
Questions to Ask Your Therapist: Qualifications
There are questions to ask your therapist about his or her therapists' qualifications:
- What kind of training do you have?
- Are you licensed and if so, by whom?
- What are your qualifications to treat me?
- How much experience do you have treating my condition?
Let me tell you a tale of two therapists. One had no training, was not licensed by any reputable organization, was qualified to treat me for "lie-based thinking" because she had read a book and attended a seminar on how to treat Satanic ritual abuse survivors (in other words, people who had dissociative episodes), and had very little experience in treating people with an actual psychiatric diagnosis. Needless to say, I did not do well under her care and after two sessions she told me not to come back until I was ready to forgive.
The other therapist was a psychologist (Doctorate of Psychology, or Psy.D.), licensed by the State of Texas, extensively trained in issues affecting young adults, and had several years of experience treating people my age with similar life experiences. I credit her as being the reason I didn't kill myself during college (Suicide Information, Resources & Support).
The sad reality is that anyone can call themselves a psychotherapist, which is why the licensing question to ask your therapist is so important. You want a psychologist, a marriage and family therapist, or a social worker--those titles have some degree of regulation. Regulation equals training. You wouldn't go to an unlicensed, untrained cardiologist for heart problems, why should mental health be any different?
Questions to Ask Your Therapist: Type of Therapy
Ask these questions of your therapist about the type of therapy he or she will be using:
- What type of therapy will we be doing?
- What does this type of therapy entail?
- What is the track record of this type of therapy?
When I was first diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), I started dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT. This kind of therapy emphasizes mindfulness and "being in the moment." I made very little progress and therapists blamed me and kept referring me to colleagues until I finally ended up with my current treatment team, which specializes in schema therapy.
They told me that my lack of progress was not my fault, and that DBT studies show that it is actually no more effective than treatment as usual (TAU). Long story short, I got better with schema therapy, which teaches the patient to recognize which mode of operation they're currently in and how to fight back against it.
Do your homework. Research what each type of therapy entails. PubMed.gov is a wonderful resource for people who want to know what the studies say.
Questions to Ask Your Therapist: Who Else Can Help?
More often than not, your treatment will involve multiple people. The questions you'll want to ask your therapist here are:
- Who else will be part of my treatment team (Depression Treatment Team)?
- How will you communicate?
- What will you discuss? For example, in addition to a therapist, you might have a psychiatrist (who should communicate frequently with your therapist, and vice versa), a care coordinator (who handles such things as psychiatric medication management and transportation to appointments), and a social worker (who helps you with claiming disability benefits). Clear communication is vital--make sure they can talk to one another. Sign the paperwork and let them know what's okay to discuss and what should be kept confidential. As the saying goes, "Two heads are better than one."
You may have other questions for your therapist, and that's okay. Ask away. You have a right to know. It's your health on the line. Write down what questions you have and ask them. It can only help.