What questions should I ask prospective therapists over the phone to vet them before making an appointment?
March 15, 2011 9:38 PM   Subscribe

What questions should I ask prospective therapists over the phone to vet them before making an appointment?

I've never sought out a therapist on my own before, nor do I have any real experience in therapy. I finally feel ready to give it a try, but I also feel overwhelmed staring at lists of names of in-network providers. My main issues are anxiety and what I suspect is undiagnosed ADHD.

What questions should I ask prospective shrinks over the phone so I can gather enough information about them to tell if it's worth bothering to take the time to come in for an initial consultation? I understand that it's hard to tell if someone will be a good fit for me without going in and spending an hour with them, but surely I can at least weed out the obviously inappropriate ones without wasting that much time!

I've had terrible luck with physical doctors in the past, and get very frustrated with doctors who talk down to me or, alternatively, just listen rather than being interactive and giving me suggestions and information.

I want to figure out what the most efficient set of questions is to determine over the phone whether someone's method, style, and personality might work well for me. Well, that and whether they know their shit when it comes to problems with anxiety and inability to focus on getting anything done ever. (Efficient, because I don't want them to get fed up with me before I even walk in their front door.)

What questions should I ask?

For extra credit, should I ask over the phone whether they're kink friendly, or wait to bring that up in person? I will end up talking about BDSM in the context of discussing my problems with focus, so it is relevant and important.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
This may seem a little silly and perhaps not what you'd expect, and it's been a long time since I've seen a therapist, but about a decade ago I saw two different guys - first one, then after a gap, the other. When I started seeing the second guy, I asked him if was tuned into popular culture at all. (He said he was.) The first guy really wasn't, and sometimes that made it harder to talk with him about things.

I will say that I myself am not a major consumer of pop culture (don't get me wrong - I like tv, but I've never seen American Idol, don't follow celebrity gossip, etc.), but it still came up surprisingly often, and I couldn't even discuss, say, The Sopranos with the first guy. (And hell, that show featured a therapist prominently!) I know this might seem trivial, but conversations can grind to a halt when the other person has no idea what you're talking about.

So, I'm not saying ask your potential therapist exactly this question. But it's more than okay to try to find out if they'll be relatable. So yeah, if there are things that are important for you to be able to talk about, it's okay to ask these people if they know anything about them.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:47 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

It may be a good idea to write up a sort of précis of your problems and send it to your prospective therapist before your first appointment--one person I know did this and had a therapist recuse herself based on what she was sent, but had excellent results with the next one.
posted by tellumo at 9:51 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ask what they think their job is. That is, ask them what role they expect or hope to play in clients' lives and in the actual therapy sessions. There's no specific right or wrong answer, but the way they talk about their own jobs will tell you a lot.

I'd also ask what kinds of methods they like to use. Do they like to talk a lot about your past and what got you to where you are now? Do they give homework or recommend readings for you to do outside of therapy? What types of therapy have they been trained in, and what do they feel most comfortable doing? Do they give advice, or do they prefer to ask you questions and help you come to your own answer? That sort of thing.
posted by decathecting at 9:53 PM on March 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

"How much do you charge? Do you take insurance?"

Not a joke.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:05 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Would you be able to assess me for ADHD?" Not everyone can.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:06 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try to ask open-ended questions. "How do you approach therapy?" "What can you tell me about your style of therapy?"
posted by Gilbert at 10:16 PM on March 15, 2011

You might want to check the Kink-Aware Professionals directory and see if there's any overlap between them and any of you in-network professionals list. Not that you shouldn't vet people if they're on that list, of course!
posted by NoraReed at 10:16 PM on March 15, 2011

It can be very hard to tell, initially, whether the match works - even after a consult, or one or two sessions. And if you're like I've been, you'll only be able to get a rough impression of chemistry, since you'll probably be a bit nervous. But certainly call at least a handful - each call will be easier than the next.

Most psychs* will refer to their methods as 'eclectic' (pulled from different traditions) and will say use different approaches depending on the problem. When you get a vague answer like this (you probably will), ask about specific experience, training and practices in assessing/treating ADHD and anxiety. Don't be afraid to 'take up time' - therapy's expensive; they will be working for you.

(A note - ADHD diagnostic criteria are heavily slanted towards men; women tend not to experience so much of the H. Ask how many women they've treated, if you are one.)

I like what what decathecting and roger say, and would add:

'How much experience do you have in assessing and treating adult ADHD [in women]? What about anxiety?' or 'What proportion of your practice comprises treatment for ADHD and anxiety?'.

'Do you offer payment on a sliding scale?'

An elaboration, if you get a vague answer on the 'interactive' issue:
'While I don't expect anyone to 'solve' my problems, I'd prefer to work with someone who takes a more active, participatory approach in discussions.'

'How long does it usually take to establish whether it's a good fit?'

Here are some more examples of questions to ask (some are geared to specific issues; substitute your own).

It's fantastic that you've committed to this process. It might take a bit of time, and more than a few consultations. Please don't let this daunt you, though, and always check your responses.

*Usually, assessment is done by psychologists - often, psychs who really know their ADHD have specialized in educational assessment - or sometimes psychiatrists, and sometimes clinical social workers can too, depending on the location.

CHADD professional directory if you're in the US.
posted by nelljie at 11:11 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

What is your treatment orientation?

Does she/he have a profile page like this one?

How to Choose a Therapist

Are they capable of prescribing a medication, like Buspar, for your anxiety, if needed?

Maybe call a kink-friendly shrink for a reference?
posted by nickyskye at 1:31 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ask what they all said, but pay less attention to their answers than to how you feel talking to them. If you feel at all awkward, say you do and see if that helps or hinders in what follows.
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:10 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes---ask about whether they're kink friendly or not. If the person sounds friendly but says they don't have alot of experience with it ---tell them what your expectations are.

"I'd like you to assume it's healthy unless I bring up concerns about the role it plays in my life. And I'd like you not to place too much importance on it--unless I do."
posted by vitabellosi at 3:30 AM on March 16, 2011

Since many self-help books are pretty similar to the manuals or guide-lines therapists (should) follow, I would actually try out a couple of (evidence based) self-help books before seeking out a therapist, if only to get an overview of the different approaches available. Once you've invested yourself some in this project, you hopefully have an idea of what type of therapy you would prefer, and could ask your therapist questions with greater insight. On a more personal note, I would recommend Acceptance and Commitment therapy based on your description and my own experience.
posted by okokok at 6:59 AM on March 16, 2011

Ask about kink friendliness over the phone. If this is an important part of your life, you don't want to feel judged about it in your safe space.

Definitely ask if they specialize in any particular issues and, depending on that answer, how much experience they've had with ADHD and anxiety in adults.

Apparently Yelp does reviews on therapists. Check there?

Ask what percent of the time they think they talk in a session with a client. If it's 20% or lower, they're probably not going to be a good fit for what you want based on what you describe.
posted by Night_owl at 10:19 AM on March 16, 2011

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