Looking for the right therapist can be a daunting task, especially if you aren’t sure what questions to ask before booking your first appointment. People seek therapy for a variety of reasons, so it’s important to connect with the therapist equipped with the right toolset to meet your unique needs.
If you’d like to know how to interview your next potential therapist, this is the post for you.
When a client has a trusting relationship with their therapist, good therapeutic outcomes often follow. Credentials are important, but a resume alone won’t be enough to tell you if you can connect at the personal level needed to form a trusting relationship. While all therapists are trained to build rapport, you might find that you naturally get along better with certain personality types.
Most clinical therapists offer some type of brief, free consultation prior to scheduling an appointment. This is the ideal time to ask questions and determine whether or not you could see yourself working well with this provider. With experience, I have learned to ask if potential clients are interviewing any other therapists besides me. If the answer is no, I tend to encourage calling at least one other provider before making a decision. It’s hard to gauge how well a therapist can meet your needs if you have no one to compare them to.
With this in mind, here are three important questions to consider asking during your next phone consultation with a new therapist:
How would you describe your style or approach to therapy?
This might seem like a weird question, but it can be the determining factor in figuring out if a therapist is a good fit for you. Just like artists often gravitate toward a particular type of art as they become more experienced, therapists tend to develop their own style over time.
Some therapists are more structured than others when it comes to their approach. Likewise, certain types of therapy are more focused on what is happening in the present, past, or future. If you would prefer to talk about past experiences, a therapist who is present oriented might not guide the conversation in a way you find helpful. If you need someone who can approach tough questions gently, you may not be satisfied with a therapist who is more direct.
It can be helpful to consider some qualities of your ideal therapist before making any phone calls. Remember, almost every therapist will be trustworthy, supportive, and non-judgmental. What do you need beyond this to support your healing journey?
What is your clinical background?
It can also be helpful to ask potential clinicians about their past work experiences and people they served. Many therapists have special training in certain areas such as trauma-informed care, neurodiversity, or issues such as substance use or mood disorders. Though many of us mention this in our bios, an initial consultation is a good time to ask for more information.
If you have already started searching for a new therapist, you may notice a variety of letters following our names that show our credentials. It is important to know that some credentials vary by state. For the purposes of this article, we are looking at credentialing in the state of Maryland, where our practice is based. Some of the most common credentials you will see are:
LMSW: A Licensed Master Social Worker is the first level of Social Work licensure. In order to apply for the next level, an LMSW has to complete certain supervision and clinical time requirements.
LCSW: A Licensed Certified Social Worker is the second level of Social Work licensure. Some LCSWs might decide to continue receiving supervision even though it is no longer required. All of them have passed a rigorous exam which allows LCSWs to work independently.
LCSW-C: If you see a C behind an LCSW’s name, it means they have met requirements for the highest certification available in Maryland. Social workers can be found in many environments, but LCSW-Cs have concentrated experience in clinical issues.
LGPC: A Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor, like an LMSW, is the first level of licensure in the field of Professional Counseling. LGPCs also have certain clinical and supervision requirements in order to advance to their next level of licensure.
LCPC: A Licensed Certified Professional Counselor, like an LCSW, has met all the state requirements to work independently. They also must pass a rigorous national exam. You may see some professional counselors list the “NCC” credential, which means they are a Nationally Certified Counselor. In order to maintain this credential, counselors must meet certain continuing education requirements every year.
LCADC: A Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor is a special license for those who have concentrated training in working with problematic substance use. Some social workers and professional counselors who work in the substance use field choose to get this additional licensure. The LCADC has its own tiers of licensure and its own separate process for advancement.
Now that you know more about these common credentials, you might be wondering what makes social work different from professional counseling. Their approaches may be slightly different, but both clinical social workers and professional counselors are qualified to provide mental health services.
Social Workers and Professional Counselors have similar licensing requirements, similar coursework, and can provide similar services. However, Professional Counselors tend to have a tighter scope of knowledge in mental health, while Social Workers could apply their degrees to broader areas of work if they choose. Many social workers do have interest in supporting people and families with their mental health, and then choose to focus on mental health related issues. These are usually the social workers you will find in private practice settings.
What are your Rates?
If you plan to use insurance benefits to pay for your sessions, it is important to confirm that you have mental health benefits and your therapist is in-network before making an appointment. Because the out-of-pocket rate for services is often much higher than an insurance copay, understanding how much you can expect to pay for therapy sessions can help you make a sound decision.
Some therapists choose not to contract with insurance companies for various reasons. Sliding scale options are sometimes available for clients who would experience financial barriers to paying the full cost of a session, which you can ask about during the consultation.
If you are unsure about your benefits or if a provider is in-network, the best place to start is by calling the number on the back of your insurance card. The representative will be able to confirm your copay or coinsurance, which is the amount you pay for services if your therapist is in-network. They will also be able to explain if you have a deductible, which is a dollar amount you will pay for services before your insurance will start covering the cost. Some insurances will even verify if a provider is in network for you over the phone.
Understanding what approaches, backgrounds, and financial options match your needs will go a long way toward finding a therapist who is an all-around good fit. The Therapy Collective relies on a large referral network to connect clients with the unique support they are looking for—if we can’t help, we likely know someone who can. Learn more about our team or request an appointment to get started.
This article was originally written by Carley Foster LCPC at https://thetherapycollectivemd.com/