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Counseling and Shopping for Sweaters

Only about half of Americans who would qualify as having a clinical mental health issue receive treatment for it, according to a 2010 survey supported by the National Institute of Mental Health. Why? Cost, availability, access, and it doesn’t help that finding a therapist that fits you is a process. Many people give up before they find the "right" person to help them, which is pretty sad.

Think about the process of buying a sweater. You would not walk into a store and buy the first sweater you saw on a hanger without checking the size, color, material, price, etc. You would not blindly pay for it, take it home, only to try it on and decide it is ill-fitting, too itchy, the wrong color, or just looks terrible. You wouldn't return it to the store and then decide from the experience that you should avoid buying sweaters forever. That would be crazy! And yet, people begin therapy without meeting the therapist first, without asking questions, without getting a sense of whether they feel comfortable. Many people have told me that they are distrustful of therapy in general because they "once saw a therapist who had a weird way of sitting" and then decided it was not worth it.

Most therapists offer a 15-minute consultation where you can explain your objectives, ask them questions and get a feel for them. If they don't offer this, you should ask for it before you pay money or sign a contract to embark on a counseling relationship.

Here are some questions you might ask a therapist before making an appointment. I have included my own answers for the fun of it.

The Basics

While it can be awkward to talk about $$, therapists should openly discuss pricing, insurance, and other logistics. Therapists know that if you’re stressed about making payments, you’re less likely to be engaged in session and to continue therapy. Ask...

  • How long have you been practicing? Since 2000

  • What licenses and certifications do you have? LCSW

  • How much do you charge? $180 per session

  • What are you sliding-scale options?

  • How many clients have you had with similar circumstances to my own?

  • When was the last time you worked with someone similar to me?

  • Describe your ideal client. Someone ready to get to work on the issues.

Goodness of Fit

Research tells us that 70% of clients' report of effective therapy came down to a good fit between client and provider. It’s important to find a therapist that meshes with your personality. And don’t be afraid to ask a potential therapist about their own personal experiences with therapy—a good therapist believes in their field and knows what it’s like to be the one lying on the couch. BTW- I don't have a couch.

  • What are your strengths and limitations as a counselor? I am relatable and use humor and empathy. I am not bicultural, an immigrant, a POC or LGBTQAI, so I may not understand the nuances of those experiences of humanness.

  • What is your general philosophy and approach to helping? Person-In-Environment (a practice-guiding principle that highlights the importance of understanding an individual and their behavior in light of the environmental contexts in which that person lives and acts.) I often draw on the modalities of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Solution-Focused Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

  • Are you more directive or more guiding? Directive

  • Have you been in therapy yourself? Yes. How recently? Two years ago.

  • How often do you seek peer consultation? Monthly.

Setting Goals

Now you need to jot down some goals to discuss with your potential therapist. By creating goals, you increase the value of your time in therapy and set yourself up for success!

  • How often would you anticipate seeing me? For how long?

  • What is success for you? My job is to put myself our of a job.

  • How long are the sessions? 55 minutes

  • What kind of homework/reading do you give clients? I email clients after most every session with a summary of points discussed and opportunities to dive deeper into those points between sessions.

  • How do I prepare for my first session? Complete the paperwork sent to you, particularly the questionnaire.


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