Updated: Dec 31, 2019
So after weighing whether or not you should start therapy, you've decided to set up an initial consultation with a therapist. If this is your first time doing therapy, this small but important step may be unclear to you. You may be wondering "What do I ask?", "What am I even looking for in a therapist?" "How do I know which one is right for me?"
These are all legitimate questions. The good thing is that an initial consultation provides you with an opportunity to explore them with a potential therapist who may be able to guide you to what you need, even if this means referring you to someone else.
Note: A good therapist will not engage/continue therapy with you if your circumstances fall outside of their scope of practice, or beyond their skills and qualifications to help you.
Why you should do a consultation with a therapist
Many therapists offer a free initial consultation for potential clients. These are usually brief (15-20 minutes) phone or in-person meetings to identify what your concerns are, and to determine how therapy would be of benefit to you. It may also be an opportunity to be provided with other resources that could help you with your circumstances.
Through an initial consultation, you will become more familiar with the therapist's practice approach, treatment focus, availability and fees (among other things) without paying for a full session fee. It is also a way to get a sense of your therapist's manner, and if this is an in-person consultation you will become familiar with the location and therapy space.
To get the most out of those few minutes, it helps to prepare ahead of time. Here's how:
Think about why you're seeking therapy
Be prepared to identify what prompted you to seek therapy. Was there a specific event that caused deeper issues to rise to the surface? How would you want to feel/be after engaging in therapy? You don't have to worry about using clinical terms. Being honest and clear about your experience is sufficient in helping your therapist understand where you're coming from, and the direction you want to go in.
Assess your commitment/participation level
Therapy requires your full attention and engagement. If you know that you are not prepared to commit in this way, don't be afraid to be upfront about this. It doesn't mean you're not eligible for therapy, but it does provide your therapist with some insight about the most suitable approach, model or resources for your situation. For example, if you have a busy and unpredictable work schedule, it may be more practical to explore options such as online/messaging therapy that is more flexible to your needs.
Consider how frequently you are able to attend sessions
It is generally advised that you attend sessions weekly. This is to build and maintain momentum of progress, and ensure that you are well supported as you experience change and the discomfort that sometimes come with it. However, finances can be a constraint on how often you can attend. Work/home schedules can also make this difficult. Be clear with your therapist about this as it will help shape your treatment plan, including the treatment model to be used if your participation in session will be infrequent (bi-weekly, monthly).
Talk about fees
Don't be afraid to talk about therapy fees. It is okay to ask your therapist about their session rate, and how they take payment. Also, be sure to ask if there are other associated fees related to providing you with services to support your therapy (referral fees, assessment report, release of information, etc). If you are using insurance, ensure that your provider covers the therapist's services. For example, some providers may cover the services of Clinical Psychologists, but not Registered Social Workers. To avoid any confusion (and surprises), clarify this with your insurance provider. You may also discuss with your therapist if they are part of your insurance company's network of providers.
Also, although you may be uncomfortable disclosing that fees may be a barrier for you, your therapist may be in a position to connect you with services you need. Some therapists offer a sliding scale, others have a "pay what you have" policy. And many of them are able to refer you to low-cost counselling and therapy services provided by non-profit or government funded organizations.
This may not be necessary, but some people do find it helpful to do some background reading on what treatment models have been proven to address their concerns. For example, for anxiety and OCD related issues, CBT is an evidence-based model that has proven to be effective. Therefore, you may want to ascertain from your therapist their experience with CBT if anxiety is a primary issue for you.
So, to summarize...
It doesn't hurt to ask the practical questions. Be acquainted with what you need by envisioning what you want out of therapy. Be upfront regarding your schedule, availability and fee payment. Those 15 minutes are likely to be the most useful to you in your first steps on your therapy journey.
If you would like to discuss your therapeutic needs, and would like to explore the possibility of starting therapy, feel free to contact me by calling 416-688-5274, or by booking a free initial consult at heartspringtherapy.ca/book-online.