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5 Questions to Ask Your New Therapist at Intake

When you’re choosing a therapist, it’s important to ensure that the individual you’re working with aligns with your beliefs, values, and experiences. If you’ve ever been to therapy, you’re probably familiar with being asked a bunch of questions during the first session. This is usually a screening exam to help the therapist understand the problems the client is facing.

What many don’t realize is that you are also allowed to ask your therapist questions.

You will spend a lot of time with this person, revealing to them your most vulnerable moments. It’s important for both of you to feel safe and comfortable in this environment.

Here are five questions to help aid you in searching for a therapist.

1.  What experience do you have in treating ________ ?

It is absolutely OK for you to ask what kind of experience and background they have in treating particular conditions.

This helps you find out the following:

How long have they been treating this condition? What approach do they use? Are they comfortable treating this condition? What is their opinion on the mainstream approach to treatment?

This is super important. It helps you determine if they have a bias towards the condition or if they feel they garner enough experience to help you effectively.

For example, if you have ADHD, you may want to find a therapist that is knowledgeable and up to date on the current research available so they can best help you. There are many controversial opinions on conditions like ADHD in the psychology field and this question can help you find one that has an understanding of your needs.

2. What is your approach to treatment with ________?

Asking this question allows you the opportunity to understand the treatment approach they’re taking. Each therapist has their own opinions and ideas about treatment, therefore you want to make sure their approach is the best approach for you.

This will help you understand the following:

Do they use CBT? DBT? Polyvagal Theory? What’s their preference on PTSD? Do they believe in harmful therapies like ABA? Do they combine multiple approaches? Do they cater the approach to the client? Do they like to let the client in on determining the approach? Do they prefer workbooks and classes or an organic flow of conversation?

3. What is your political affiliation?

This is by far one of the most important questions to ask. You want to understand if their political beliefs are in support of your rights or if they actively vote against issues that may impact you.

It’s OK to outright ask this. If the individual gets angry about the question, take that as a red flag.

Transparency in a therapeutic relationship is essential, and you have every right as a client to know if their values align with yours. It also helps you understand the lens through which they see the world.

It’s also a huge indicator in recognizing the potential biases they may hold and how that could harm you during treatment.

4. What experience do you have working with ________ community?

Different cultural backgrounds can influence the type of approach a clinician uses in therapy. This is important because it helps you gain an idea of whether or not they’re culturally competent when working with individuals in those communities.

Great follow up questions include:

What research do they do outside of session to garner cultural competence? Do they take diverse CEU (Continuing Education Unit) courses? Are they actively educating themselves on the issues the members of these communities face? If so, what resources are they using? Are they reading books and research studies by members of these communities?

For Example

If an individual is in an interracial relationship and they’re pursuing couples therapy with their partner, it could potentially be harmful for the clinician to utilize the exact same treatment approach they use with couples of the same race. This is due to the fact that different races or ethnic backgrounds have different boundaries, beliefs or communication styles. Many individuals in interracial relationships also face discrimination and harsh criticism from external members of their community. This creates more stress in the relationship. A clinician that’s experienced in working with interracial relationships will be aware of these things and can modify their therapeutic approach to include these factors.

5. What efforts are you making to decolonize your practice?

Britannica dictionary defines decolonization as the process by which colonies become independent of the colonizing country. 

Ensuring that your therapist is making efforts to decolonize is imperative.

Most of the research conducted in psychology has been conducted on straight, white, heterosexual, cisgendered men. This is problematic because many of the treatment modalities pushed in the psychology field are biased towards that specific population.

That means that these treatment approaches are not taking into account the barriers and struggles that individuals of a different race, ethnic group, cultural background, sexuality, religious background, or gender identity are facing.

Take, for instance, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It’s a favored treatment modality among clinicians. The goal of CBT is to help the individual reframe or change negative thought patterns.

For a straight, white, cisgendered, heterosexual man, this makes sense, but someone who faces discrimination regularly may be harmed by this approach.

Black and brown individuals cannot “reframe” their negative thoughts about fearing for their lives. Women and femme presenting individuals cannot “reframe” their thoughts of panic when walking home at night. This is their reality and it’s something they encounter every single day. Asking them to reframe these thoughts could be a form of gaslighting on the therapist’s part.

If your therapist cannot come up with an answer to this question, then it’s probably not a good fit.

When Looking For A Therapist

It can also be helpful to search “(insert community/group you’re a part of here) therapist” to help you find individuals who have expertise in these areas and who have similar beliefs or experiences that you do.

Example: LGBTQ+ Therapist, Muslim Therapist, Latina Therapist, Neurodivergent Therapist, Therapist that works with people who have chronic illness.

Conclusion

In conclusion, asking your therapist these important questions is completely OK.

In fact, most therapists would encourage it. Therapists want to make sure that you’re receiving the best care you can possibly get and most know that they might not be the individual to provide that to you. It’s a part of the job and it helps ensure you receive the care you need.

Getty image by SDI Productions

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