Friday, July 8, 2016

10 Questions to Ask Your Counselor Before You Meet For Your First Session


Recently, I went to a medical doctor who advised me to have a minor surgical procedure.  It would be in the office, relatively painless and totally worth it.  Even though I know that this person is an expert who is really good at what he does, I had questions.  Did I ask?  Of course I did!  I think that any time that you are consulting with a professional, we need to ask questions, do a little research and ask some more questions before we agree to move forward with recommendations.

It's OK to interview your counselor.
Even though you have researched the list of counselors available to you and have done the required soul searching to decide to pursue counseling, and are, in your heart, ready to seek counseling, you probably still have questions.  Especially if you are new at counseling, you are probably nervous about the process.  Just as I was nervous about getting a procedure completed with my expert doc, you may be similarly nervous and curious.  Asking questions can help you to understand the process, build trust with the counselor and help yourself make decisions.  Like the medical procedure, counseling takes place in the office, is relatively painless and totally worth it.

I talked about "what counselors really do" and "how you can find a counselor"in previous posts. But, you may still have questions.  Here are some suggestions for questions that you could ask before your first session:

1 - What happens during our first meeting?  Counselors tend to be very open about what to expect in their office... and each office's procedures and systems are slightly different.  Usually the first session is all about you explaining your situation while the counselor listens.  It is during this first session that counselors talk with you about goal setting, making a plan to continue meeting, making referrals if needed and discussing logistics.  Every counselor is a little different based on their guiding philosophy and personality, but this is generally how it goes.

2 - What is your office like?  Sometimes, knowing what you are about to walk into helps to calm anxiety.  Some therapists have a photo of the office or a description on their websites like I do.  Visuals and expectations help.

3 - What is your counseling approach or philosophy?  Knowing the counselor's training and general philosophical framework can help you to decide which counselor you want to see.

4 - How long is this going to take?  A reasonable question, for sure.... but be prepared for the answer.  Everyone's situation is different.  Some people figure out what they need to figure out very quickly.  Others need extra help.  Some people have very complex problems with multiple layers that  need time to be sorted out.  Most counselors, however, want you to be able to sort things out and then move on with your life.  The days of staying in therapy for years and years is mostly over. 

5 - How much does it cost?  Most counselors have this information on their websites, but ask the question anyway for clarification.  You may want to understand the process of private payment versus using insurance, for example.

6 - Do you have experience helping others with my issue?  It's helpful to know that the counselor you are going to see has experience.

7 - Will you tell me what to do?  Counselors will offer suggestions and recommendations at times.  Sometimes, counselors will assign homework for you to do in between sessions.  Mostly, counselors are not terribly bossy.  However, I admit, that there have been times that I have truly urged folks to see their doctors or to read a relevant article.  Everyone has free will, so it's up to you whether you follow recommendations or not.  So, the answer to this questions is likely to be "well, maybe..."

8 - Will our meeting be confidential?  It's important for you to feel safe with the counselor.  Confidentially is a huge part of this.  You should understand the limits of confidentiality.

9 - What happens if I disagree with you?  It really is ok if you disagree with the counselor's thoughts, interpretations, recommendations or suggestions.  You are there for a consultation and council.  If you hear something that doesn't feel right to you, just talk about it.  It could be that the counselor is trying to help you get unstuck... which could be uncomfortable but a very good thing in the long run.

10 - What if we aren't a good fit?  If you don't feel comfortable with the counselor, just talk about it.  The counselor wants to help you, so if you can explain why it doesn't feel right to you, you may get a referral to someone else.

What other questions would you like to ask a counselor before you go in to your first session?  Comment below and let me know.

Stacey Brown is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor practicing in Fort Myers, Florida.  Sign up for her newsletter and follow on FacebookInstagram and Twitter so you can stay in touch.

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