13 Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

When you are considering therapy for your child or teen, you may wonder how to begin your search for a therapist.

  • Get a recommendation: 
    Word of mouth is often an excellent way to obtain a recommendation. Pediatricians, school counselors, pastors, rabbis, and friends may be a source of information about local therapists. Some parents prefer to search the internet or contact someone on their insurance provider list. Even with these leads, it can be difficult to make a choice during a stressful time.
  • Find the right match:
    In truth, it’s not just about finding a good therapist. It’s about finding a therapist with whom you and your child/teen can work well. There is substantial research that supports the idea that a good match is key.
  • Ask questions:
    One of the ways that you can get a sense of both match and expertise is through asking good questions. You can pick and choose from the questions on this list, depending on what is most relevant and of importance to you.
  • Involve your child or teen:
    Yes, have a conversation with your son or daughter about their thoughts about therapy. For example, teens sometimes want to weigh in with their preferences. Would they be more comfortable working with a man or a woman? What are their concerns about therapy? What are their hopes and expectations about therapy? Younger children benefit from learning what to expect in their first session with their new “listening and helping friend.”  Your young child’s prospective therapist will be able to guide you in preparing your child.

1. Do you have availability?
If your family has limited availability (for example, you may need an evening or weekend appointment), you might want to ask this question near the beginning of the conversation. It will make the search process easier.

2. Do you take my insurance?
This is another question you may want to ask early in the conversation, especially if you hope to use your insurance. In many cases you also have the option of paying privately, or out-of –pocket.

  • Some therapy practices take insurance, and others are what are called “fee for service” practices. The latter do not take insurance. However, many fee for service practices will provide an insurance claim form that the family can submit for reimbursement at the “out of network” rate, if one is provided by the insurance.
  • One of the decisions a family needs to make is whether or not they will use their insurance. If a family decides to use their insurance, a psychiatric diagnosis will need to be provided to the insurance company. Once the therapist has met with the client, they will be able to inform about the diagnosis they will use on the insurance form. Some families prefer to use a “fee for service” practice for reasons of specialty, match, or convenience and/or because they prefer not to have a diagnosis submitted to the insurance company. Other families are comfortable using their insurance and find a good match within their insurance network.

3. Are you licensed by the state of California? Is your license active and in good standing?
The answer to these questions should be “yes.” The exception: some therapists are recent graduates from masters or doctoral programs. Mental health professionals in California are required to accrue a certain number of supervised hours of experience under the license and supervision of a licensed therapist. Once they have accrued their supervised hours they will sit for their licensing exam. These pre-licensed clinicians are sometimes referred to as Practicum Trainees, Interns, Psychological Assistants, or Registered Psychologists, depending on the setting and their degree. Feel free to ask questions to gain more information about the pre-licensed clinician if you are considering working with one.

4.What is your level of education?
Licensed therapists in the state of California should have either a masters or doctoral degree. If the therapists are pre-licensed, they may not yet have their degree. Again, feel free to ask questions about where they are on their educational and training trajectory.

There are no right answers to the following questions. However, the answers will help you know more about the prospective therapist. 
Pick and choose from the questions most relevant to your situation.

5. What are your areas of expertise?

6. How many years have you been practicing?

7. My child/teen is struggling with these issues……. What type of training and professional experience do you have with treating these types of difficulties?

8. What types of treatment do you use for the kinds of challenges my child/teen is facing? How effective are these treatments? How will we all know if the treatment is working?

  • In answer to this question, therapists may describe their approach or theoretical orientation for working with teens and families. They may also mention options like individual therapy (meeting with just your teen), family therapy (the family meets together to seek solutions), group therapy (teens meet with other teens to support each other and build skills), and/or parent coaching and counseling (parents meet with a therapist for support and tools). Therapists may suggest some combination of these options for your family, depending on the current challenges.

9. I understand that my teen needs privacy in therapy. However, I want to be involved. How do you involve parents when working with teens?

10. How can I prepare my teen for his/her first session? What information is good to share with them if they are worried or reluctant?

11. In therapy, do you focus on the past or the present?

12. We know there is no way to predict how long therapy may last. However, do you describe your work as more short-term or long-term?

13. In case of an emergency, is there a way we can reach you between sessions?


Click here to watch a video with Dr. Melissa Johnson discussing the 13 questions to ask a potential therapist.




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