6 questions to ask your therapist during your first session

I learned a lot after my relationship with my first therapist went sour, but one of the biggest realizations I had was that we hadn’t spent much time in the beginning discussing our mutual expectations. So when it came time to start therapy with a new therapist, I felt intimidated and awkward. What do you talk to them about? How do you know if someone is the right fit for you? Where do you start when you  have a lifetime of things to share and a laundry list of personal problems you want to work through?

According to psychotherapist Vanessa Kensing, one way to find out is by asking the person some key questions so you can get to know them better and assess how the connection feels between you two. You could be spending a lot of quality time with each other and revealing some of your deepest vulnerabilities, so you want to be sure they’re the right person for you. But how do you know what to ask?

Establishing open and honest dialogue from the beginning will prove beneficial as you navigate working together. Here, Kensing shares six questions to ask your therapist during your first session.

Do you work with people who have similar issues to me?

Kensing says it’s important to work with a therapist who has “training, experience, and enjoys working with whatever is bringing you to therapy.” It’s crucial to find out what kind of clients the practitioner typically works with and their therapeutic approach, which will ensure you’re seeing someone who is equipped to assist you in working through your specific personal challenges.

What does a typical therapy session with you look like?

According to Kensing, asking this question will help you get to know the therapist’s approach, including how active the therapist is in their sessions and client relationships. By asking this question, you’ll find out how you two will work together, including whether they use worksheets, if they engage with exercises or activities, or if they will serve as a compassionate listener. Knowing their way of doing things from the beginning means there will be no surprises down the road, and you two will be on the same page about what is expected of you during, after, and prior to each session.

How long do you typically work with someone?

When starting therapy, it’s helpful to have a time frame in mind of how long you might be working together. Kensing says this typically depends “on your own preference and issues you want to address.” Some therapists offer short-term therapy, which usually lasts from eight weeks to six months, while others do long-term therapy, which is more open-ended. Knowing this ahead of time can help you manage expectations and set tangible goals together with your timeline in mind.

How do you decide if we are a good fit?

Kensing believes that directly asking the therapist how they determine if you two are a good fit can assist you in deciding if they are a good fit for you, too. Notice how their response makes you feel, and check in with yourself to see if you think the relationship feels right. Pay attention to your body language during your first session—if you feel physically tense or uncomfortable, they just might not be the person for you.

How do you determine when it’s time to complete therapy?

There’s no manual on how to handle a therapy ending—which can unfortunately turn awkward sometimes if you two don’t agree on the timing—so it can be useful to know ahead of time how to navigate it and what to expect. Some therapists like to phase out your time together over several sessions, while others do not. Regardless, knowing this information ahead of time will make an ending less scary and way more comfortable.

If things aren’t feeling right for me, how should I communicate that to you?

Kensing says, “You want a therapist who is willing to work with you and open to honest and critical feedback.” She believes that hearing how a therapist wants to connect, even when you’re not feeling good about your work together, will prove helpful in building your relationship. Knowing how to approach communication and give feedback will allow you to respect each other’s boundaries and keep unnecessary conflict at bay.

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