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Questions to Ask a Therapist During the First Session

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Updated November 05, 2009

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Starting to work with a new therapist can be an anxiety-provoking experience; however, knowing what to ask a therapist during the first session can help you determine whether there could be a good fit between you and your new therapist. Here are some questions that you may want to ask in order to get a better feel for your new therapist's background, training, and expertise.

  • Are you licensed?
    This is a very important question to ask. Therapists are generally required to be licensed by the state in which they practice, or at least be under the supervision of someone licensed. All states have different requirements for licensure; however, being licensed means that the therapist has passed the minimum competency standards for training within that state. Competency is usually achieved by obtaining a certain degree, obtaining a certain number of hours working with clients, and having passed a written and/or oral exam.

  • What kind of training have you received?
    Depending on who you are meeting with, the educational background of therapists can differ. For example, your therapist may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker. All of these professions are able to provide therapy; however, the education they received is different. In addition, it would be important to ask the therapist if, as part of his or her education, he or she received training in the treatment of PTSD.

  • What is your treatment orientation?
    Just as the educational background of therapists may differ, so will their orientation. What is meant by the word "orientation?" Orientation refers to the psychological theory that the therapist draws from in understanding and treating psychological difficulties. For example, some therapists believe that psychological difficulties stem from problems in thinking. This type of therapist would likely have a cognitive behavioral orientation. Others may believe that psychological difficulties stem from our early childhood (particularly, our attachment to caregivers). This type of therapist would be considered to have a psychodynamic orientation. There is no one "right" orientation. However, a therapist's orientation is going to influence how they would go about conceptualizing and treating your PTSD, and you would want to find a therapist that views your difficulties in a way that makes sense to you.

  • How many patients with PTSD have you treated?
    You should ask a therapist if they have had experience in treating PTSD. In addition, it would be important to know how they generally go about treating PTSD. Do they use exposure therapy? Psychodynamic psychotherapy? Is the treatment they use supported by research? There are many treatments for PTSD out there; however, only a few are supported by research. You would want to find someone who is familiar with these treatments and uses them in their practice.

  • What is your expertise or specialty?
    Some therapists have received specialized or focused training in one or two disorders. If you are seeking help for your PTSD, you would want to know if the therapist has expertise in trauma, PTSD, or at the very least, anxiety disorders.

  • What is the cost per session?
    Therapy can be expensive, and therefore, it is important to know from the beginning how much each session is going to cost you. You may also want to ask about what kind of insurance is accepted and what your co-pay would be. If you are having trouble affording therapy, you may want to inquire if the therapist has a "sliding scale." This means that the therapist has different prices depending on the client's income.

  • Can you prescribe medication or make referrals for medication?
    People differ in their beliefs on the use of medication for psychological difficulties. However, if you are interested in being evaluated for medication, it would be important to meet with a psychiatrist or to ask your therapist if he or she can make a referral to a psychiatrist.

  • Do you stay up-to-date on research on PTSD?
    New research findings on PTSD and its treatment come out almost every day. Therefore, you would want to make sure that your therapist stays up-to-date in their training and familiarity with new research on how best to treat PTSD.

  • Will therapy be time-limited or long-term?
    Some PTSD treatments may be time-limited. That is, they may last only for a certain number or sessions. Other treatments may be more long-term. It would be important to talk with your therapist about whether or not your treatment will be ongoing or will end after your symptoms are reduced to a certain point.

Finding the Right Therapist

It can be very difficult to find the right therapist for you. Remember, in seeking out a new therapist, you are a consumer, and you should approach the experience as you would making an investment. In many ways, beginning therapy is an investment. It is an investment in both time and money, as well as your future. Therefore, it is important that you find the therapist that is going to work best for you in getting your needs met.

This list of questions is not an exhaustive list; however, it should help you start thinking about what kind of therapist you want and what kind of questions you can ask. If you are still trying to find out what therapy options are available in your area, there are several online search engines that may help. These search engines can help direct you to therapists in your area who provide PTSD treatment.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD)
  4. PTSD Basics
  5. What to Ask a Therapist - Ask a Therapist

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