Therapy is a collaborative process where a therapist (who is a trained professional) and a client work together to identify and address a variety of mental health concerns and psychological problems, such as stress, anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, and more.
When done right, therapy offers a supportive and non-judgmental environment that allows the client to express themselves comfortably. In therapy, the client and therapist work on identifying and changing the thoughts and behaviour patterns that are keeping the client from feeling their best. With regular sessions, over a period of time, the client will have learned new skills to better cope with challenges in life.
If you are considering seeking professional help for your emotional well-being, and you haven’t been to a therapist before, it is quite natural for you to be unsure about the process of therapy. You might also have questions about privacy or types of therapy. It is important that you clarify these concerns with your therapist early on.
To help you make the most of your therapy experience, here is a compiled list of questions you can ask your therapist before you begin the process. These can help you decide if a particular therapist is a right fit for you or not.
1. What sort of training have you had?
Many therapists and counsellors, especially in India, are not qualified or licensed to practise therapy. Ensure that your therapist has at least a Masters Degree in Clinical or Counselling Psychology. An MPhil or PhD in Clinical or Counselling Psychology would indicate more intensive training and experience. You can also ask them how many years of experience they have in the field. If you belong to the LGBTQIA+ community you may be more comfortable with a queer affirmative therapist. Similarly, a trauma-informed therapist can help you deal with any trauma that you have experienced in the past or are experiencing currently.
2. Have you worked with the kind of problem I am currently facing?
Therapists often have different areas and levels of expertise. It is important to assess your therapist’s experience in the situation you are grappling with. You could state the problem for them in a few sentences and ask them how much experience they have had dealing with similar issues. Your therapist might choose to ask you more specific questions to elicit some more information. They would then be able to give you their impression about your problem and tell you whether they have had experience working with similar problems before.
3. Do you follow any particular therapeutic orientation?
While many therapists follow an eclectic approach – one that includes a number of different therapeutic theories, they might have one particular approach they tend to use more than others. It might help if you ask and read up on some of these before you start visiting your therapist, to gain a better understanding of the process. Some common orientations are thought-based approaches (eg: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy), behavioural approaches, client-centred approaches and psychodynamic approaches. You could even ask your therapist to help you with reading resources so you can understand these approaches better.
4. How will I know if it’s helping?
You might want to know how to judge your own progress in therapy. Your therapist should be able to convey a clear understanding of how to assess progress during a session – and between sessions too. Since therapy is a goal-oriented process, you and your therapist should (usually) collaboratively set these goals and identify signs of progress. Although this might not always take place in such a neat fashion, your therapist should be able to explain to you what you are working on in sessions, and what kind of change you might expect to see. However, keep in mind that change is slow and may not be linear. You will have your ups and downs.
5. What is my role in the process?
Clients are not passive listeners within a therapy session. You get to play an active role in your treatment and your therapist should make that clear to you. Therapy is a collaborative process and you have a say in what you’d like to work on. Throughout the process, you should have the power to decide – and express – what is working and what isn’t working for you. A good session will allow you to make important choices. This also means that the success of the therapy will be influenced by your commitment to this process. Ask your therapist questions about what you should do before the next session or any other questions you might have about specific goals.
6. What is your confidentiality policy?
Your therapist should respect a 100% confidentiality policy. However, there are certain situations in which a therapist may break confidentiality. For example, if they feel like you are a danger to yourself or the people around you. You can ask them to explain this policy to you before you make a decision to begin seeing them.
7. How long will it take for me to feel better?
The length of therapy can vary, depending on your specific needs and circumstances, goals, symptoms, history of these symptoms and the treatment approach adopted by your therapist. Some people come to therapy with a specific issue or concern, and brief solution-focused therapy may be the right fit. Others come to therapy to explore issues that seem to run a little deeper and they might engage in therapy for several months. However, in general, for anyone to see and appreciate positive change, six to eight sessions are needed.
Asking these questions will make you a proactive part of the therapeutic process. These questions will also help you decide if your therapist is right for you. Remember: with the right professional by your side, you will definitely see the changes that you want to make in your life.