Tips on Interviewing Therapists

In my last post I critiqued an article that discusses how to find a therapist and that suggests interviewing a handful of therapists before choosing one. My contention was that since no one enjoys repeating the intimate and painful parts of their lives to strangers, it is not realistic to expect people to go out on multiple interviews before choosing a therapist.  At Compatible Counseling Solutions one of the ways I try to make the process a little easier is by working with therapists that I’ve already interviewed, and that I am satisfied are competent and skilled as therapists.  Since I’m not vulnerable in the way a client is when I meet with therapists, I’m able to be objective and make a determination about their suitability for my network that is based on specific principles of effectiveness. Then when I meet with clients, matching them with the right therapist is as simple as getting to know the client’s situation and what type of therapist they will work well with.

If you are someone who still would rather go out and interview therapists on your own, here are some of the specific questions I suggest you ask:

1. What field of practice were you trained in (social work, psychology, marriage and family therapy etc.) and are you licensed by the state? How long have you been practicing?

Different professions have different preferred ways of helping individuals so it’s good to know the person’s background.  Do not rule out a therapist who has only been practicing for a short time.  Newer practitioners have less experience, but may be more current on effective helping models.  If the therapist is new to the field, make sure they have had a few years in which their work was supervised by a more experienced therapist.

2. What are your areas of expertise?

No one is good at everything, yet sometimes you will find a therapist that claims to have expertise in a seemingly endless list of problem areas.  This may be a red flag.

3. How do you see change happening?  What models and techniques do you use, and for what problems?

What is most important here is that the therapist can answer the question with some clarity. Most therapists use a variety of techniques from different treatment models, but if a therapist says that their model is “eclectic”, be sure that they can explain what this means. For example: with clients who are experiencing a lot of anxiety I often do “x”. 

4. How do you go about establishing goals and evaluating progress with clients?

A therapist should be able to tell you not only how they establish goals and evaluate progress (both should be collaborative processes), but also how frequently they evaluate progress.  Goal setting and evaluation do not need to be formal, paper and pen, processes but there should be some dialogue about what you’re working on and how you feel the work is going.

5. How often do you meet with clients? 

Weekly for 50 minutes is the standard, but many therapists will flex the frequency of services to meet the intensity of need.  Early in services sessions are often weekly, or even more frequent.  When a client has been in services for a while they may no longer need a weekly session and can gain more by lessening the frequency. 

6. What is your average length of service?

Average number of sessions may be more informative than average number of weeks/months. A therapist may have an average number of sessions that ranges 10-12, but may not meet weekly with clients so that the average time in service may actually be longer.  Some therapists expect to work with clients on an ongoing basis that could last for more than a year.  It’s important to understand the therapist’s orientation to length of service.  Some people want to develop a very long-term relationship with a therapist. Many people, however, are coming to services for immediate problem resolution and expect to have their situation resolved more quickly.

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