Being in therapy is no longer something people talk about in hushed tones. Instead, the erosion of the stigma associated with mental health has made it a more frequent topic of discussion. And as it becomes discussed more and more openly, questions arise about how to receive the best treatment.
One way to ensure you and your psychiatrist are a good match is to ask them specific questions. It’s best to do so within the first few sessions, ideally during the initial appointment. If you’ve never sought counseling before, it can be daunting to figure out what questions to ask a therapist during a consultation, but you should remember they are professionals whose goal is to improve your well-being.
What’s the Difference Between a Therapist and a Psychiatrist?
The first thing to understand is that therapists and psychiatrists are not interchangeable terms for the same profession. They are quite different, and what to expect during a therapy consultation may depend heavily on the professional limits of each.
In brief, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specifically studied human minds and behaviors. A therapist, on the other hand, is more of an umbrella term that includes psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, life coaches and marriage counselors.
Psychiatrists can diagnose patients as well as prescribe medication, while not all therapists have that privilege.
Therapists can have any number of degrees in any field of study — such as psychiatry, substance abuse or family counseling — and they focus on helping patients work with their feelings and problems. Therefore, the questions to ask a behavioral therapist during the first few sessions may vary from those to ask a marriage counselor.
However, any mental health professional you choose to see should be willing to address whatever concerns are on your mind.
Questions to Ask a Therapist During a First Session
The type of counseling to seek can help you decide what other questions you can or should ask. If you’re nervous, you can even add some funny questions to ask your therapist, like, “How on Earth do you do this job?”
Mainly, your goal should be to get a better sense of whether it’s a good fit for you, based on your mental health needs and goals. They may feel awkward to ask, but just remember that the counselor is a mental health professional and will do everything in their power to help you.
Will Everything We Discuss Stay Between Us?
Confidentiality concerns are one of the common questions to ask a therapist, especially by patients who have no experience with therapy. Of course, patients want to be sure therapy is a safe space in which they can express their innermost thoughts and feelings without fear.
The short answer to this question is yes, unless there’s imminent danger to the patient or someone else. The word imminent is crucial, though, and is the difference between thinking about dying and having specific suicidal ideation with a plan. The latter could require a therapist to break confidentiality for the sake of your well-being.
The law also obligates therapists to report any instances of child abuse — again, those that suggest imminent danger. So, if a patient reveals they experienced abuse as a child, that wouldn’t require a break of confidentiality, but if a patient mentions that they live in a place where someone is actively abusing a child, the therapist may have to report it.
If I’m Already on Medication, Do I Need Therapy Too?
If a psychiatrist believes you may benefit from medication, they will suggest it, including a recommendation of specific drugs. They’ll do so after they have evaluated you. The final decision is yours, however.
Unfortunately, no drug is a cure for mental illness, and studies show medication in conjunction with therapy is more effective than medication alone. Many medications also take some time to take full effect, while others are maximally beneficial only in combination with external guidance.
What Is Your Philosophy?
No two psychiatrists are the same, so it’s always useful to know the psychiatrist’s specialty. Some therapists prefer to focus on feelings and how they may affect thoughts, while others take the opposite approach. Some want to discuss you as an individual in the present, and others believe it’s essential to examine family dynamics and childhood as part of the overall picture.
Additionally, you may also want to ask your therapist why they chose the profession they did. For example, you can ask a behavioral therapist why they decided to specialize in that area, versus the field of substance abuse.
Have You Ever Been to Therapy Yourself?
Some patients prefer to know if they’ll be working with someone who has also undergone counseling. Those who do ask this question may find it helps them be more comfortable with the idea of therapy. Knowing your mental health professional has taken time to care for their well-being inspires confidence.
It can ease your mind if your therapist says they have been on the other side of the counselor-client relationship, while further decreasing the stigma of being in therapy by breaking the stereotype of people who seek help.
Will You Lead the Session or Will I?
Some therapists have an agenda they like to follow to guide the session, while others let the patient take charge, based on what they wish to discuss. Depending on what you’re more comfortable with, as well as the type of therapy you choose, one of these options will appeal to you more than the other.
Specific types of therapy — such as cognitive behavioral therapy — may need to lean more heavily on active guidance from a therapist.
What If I Want to Switch Therapists?
Your primary motivation in going to therapy is to get the help you need, and sometimes that means finding a different psychiatrist. You are more than welcome to change counselors until you find one with whom you feel comfortable.
However, it’s best not to make this decision within the first few sessions, since, at that point, you and the therapist are still getting to know each other.
Contact Principium for Your Psychiatry Services in Midtown and Lower Manhattan
At Principium, we understand the importance of good psychiatry services, which is why Dr. Cohen and the team of physicians at Principium provide all the major psychiatric therapies, treatments and services. From TMS therapies and Ketamine treatments to psychopharmacology, we have made it our goal to help you however we can.
Get in touch by calling us at 212-335-0236 or book an appointment online.