Congratulations, you have decided that you want to participate in the wonderful healing world of therapy. So what’s next? Well, you have to find someone that you’d like to work with. Notice I said work with because therapy is a collaborative experience. Think of your therapist as your hype man, shouting “We the Best” as you work towards your goals. Because you are working side by side with your licensed mental health professional it is so important that you vibe with each other. Utilize all the resources that are open to you such as your insurance website (if you have insurance), clinician directories (such as Therapy for Black Girls), and even social media but be sure to check the credentials. Realize that you have a right to preferences when searching for a clinician such as age, race, and/or gender. While searching for therapist options you may find that you have three and a possible, so what do you do? Welp, ask for a sample. You wouldn’t be expected to commit to a triple scoop of ice cream without a sample, therapy is the same way. It’s called a consultation session.
The purpose of a consultation session is to figure out if the therapist will be a good fit for you and your healing journey. This is typically shorter than a therapy session and it is the perfect time to ask questions about the therapist, their therapeutic technique, and gauge your comfort level with the therapist overall. After you have found a therapist, you need to ask if they offer consultation sessions. If so, how long is the session and how much does it cost? You do not want to assume the session is free and be unprepared to pay. Also, decide what format you would like the consultation session to be in. Is this via telephone, teleconference, or in-person? There are benefits to each of these options. Consultation via the telephone can be more convenient to fit into your busy schedule. They can even occur on your lunch break. During a teleconference, you get to see what the therapist looks like face to face which can increase the comfort level. Finally, an in-person session can provide insight into additional factors that may cause stress during therapy that we don’t always think of. For example, is the office in a location that would be difficult to arrive on time. How do you feel in the office, are you at ease in the environment or do you find it distracting?
Now that you have decided what avenue to do the consultation session here are some questions that you can ask. It can be incredibly helpful to have questions prepared for the consultation session. Therapy can be overwhelming, and you may experience many emotions during the consultation session including excitement and nervousness. This is normal, and having questions prepared will improve the likelihood that you learn what is important for you to make an informed decision when choosing a therapist.
Let’s start with some housekeeping questions. How much do you charge for a session, and do you offer a sliding scale? A sliding scale is a form of fee structure that helps to make therapy more affordable for patients. It is based off your income and can also take dependents into consideration. It can be helpful to identify your therapy budget and set goals according to how often you are able to attend sessions.
What is your protocol if I feel as though I am experiencing a crisis? While there are many reasons that individuals attend therapy, it can be helpful to know the therapists’ procedure during the worst-case scenario. For example, do they respond to crisis text messages, and what times are they unavailable to be contacted? What is your cancellation policy and what does confidentiality mean in session?
Next, there are questions about the therapist’s training, experience, and therapeutic style. Have you ever worked with someone with my presenting concerns? Some therapy clinics are training clinics so you may be receiving care from an intern that is supervised by a licensed professional. What field of mental health do you specialize in? It is not possible to excel in every single mental health specialty. You can specialize in certain presenting symptoms such as anxiety, trauma, and race-related stressors. You can also specialize in certain populations such as children, adolescents, parents, or couples. Therapists do not work on commission, and they have the best interest of the patient in mind. Therefore, they will hopefully be forthcoming and provide you with an appropriate referral if they believe that they cannot provide you with optimal care. What level of disclosure are you comfortable with? Some therapists may feel comfortable sharing aspects of their life with you. However, this is completely their choice. There is also an argument that lack of self-disclosure makes it easier to be objective and ensure that the session does not get derailed.
Finally, as a Black woman, I find it necessary to speak with therapists about specific mental health issues within the Black community. Why? Because it influences the way I engage with the world and the way that the world engages with me. I’m not expecting the therapist to provide me with a book report on the Color Purple. However, it is highly likely that issues regarding the intersectionality of being a Black woman will come up, if you are working with a therapist that you are comfortable with. For example, I may ask, how do you feel racism contributes to mental health difficulties? Now I know what you’re thinking, isn’t this a lot to cover in a 15-minute session. Possibly, but these questions are meant to be a jumping-off point for you. You can decide which ones to keep, kick to the curb, or modify.
Now that you have completed the consultation session, it is important for you to process your experience. Here are some great questions that you can ask yourself.
How did you feel while talking to the therapist, were you comfortable? For example, did you notice there was tension in your body while speaking with the therapist. Did the conversation flow openly to the point where you lost track of time, or were you counting down the minutes until it was over? Normally when I lose track of time, it’s because I am at ease with the person I am speaking with. However, I keep my eyes on the clock when an activity feels like an obligation that I want to be over.
Did you feel that the therapist was forthcoming with their responses, and did you feel heard? It’s always best to provide open-ended questions to facilitate a dialogue with the therapist. However, if you continue to receive yes or no responses, it can be a sign that they are not forthcoming and may not be the right fit for you. Also, be sure to set yourself up for success during the consultation session. Arrive at the appointment on time and choose a day or time of the week where you can be fully present. For example, there are times during the day where we have more responsibilities such as getting children ready for school or maneuvering an after-work commute through traffic. Although the consultation session likely won’t be the same length of time as a full therapy session, you should trust your gut with how the therapist makes you feel. No matter what, please remember, therapy is your time, and you have the right to walk away from any professional that does not make you feel that you are being seen and heard in a safe space.