As a psychologist I fully understand that going to a psychologist can be scary in a way. Especially when it’s your first session with a new psychologist. Everyone knows that a psychologist will ask you a bunch of questions, especially during your first session. However it is not as widely known that you as a patient/client can ask questions as well. You can and very much should. You have to be just as comfortable accepting your psychologist’s services as they are in accepting you as their client/patient. Here are eleven questions to ask a psychologist during your first session to help you make a better decision in wanting to work with them.
- 11 Questions To Definitely Ask Your Psychologist
- 1. What certifications do you have?
- 2. What are your specialisms?
- 3. What treatments do you offer?
- 4. What are your psychological beliefs?
- 5. What is the cost of a session?
- 6. Is my insurance accepted?
- 7. How are your therapy sessions structured?
- 8. What is your experience with my type of problems?
- 9. What is your emergency policy?
- 10. Can I not say something because I’m not ready yet?
- 11. Who has access to my files and to what I say?
11 Questions To Definitely Ask Your Psychologist
1. What certifications do you have?
This question to most seems redundant as it is widely known that people can go to university to be a psychologist and thus must earn a degree to be one. Here’s the kicker in that. The must in the first sentence isn’t always true. This heavily depends on the laws set up by each country whether or not someone is allowed to call themselves a psychologist or not without an official degree.
The above makes it super important to ask about their degrees AND certifications as they are not the same. A degree usually entails a broader program where things have gone more in depth than in certification programs where the focus is generally more on learning a specific skill.
Now that you know the difference I want to highlight another aspect that might prevent you from asking about their certifications and degrees. A lot of psychologists have them hanging in their office somewhere, quite visibly. Which again would make asking feel as a redundant thing to do. Wrong again. You have every right to ask the question as they might not have all of their degrees & certifications up there and knowing about them gives you the knowledge and power to make informed decisions about your mental health.
The most important takeaway from this is that you should absolutely stop assuming that everyone that calls themselves a psychologist is actually trained as I said in the opening paragraph. This depends on how the laws are set up in your country.
2. What are your specialisms?
This question might seem like you are asking them the same thing twice if you are asking the question in the same order here. Rest assured that you are not. Asking them about their specialisms is asking about what topics in the mental health field they dove into further. This could have happened outside of a specific educational program, for example the place where they got a job. When you have worked within a specific field of psychology with specific patients it could very well be that you know a lot about that particular psychological problem.
It could also be that they are doing research in a particular field but it has not been published yet or that they find a particular part of psychology very interesting and have been reading up about it quite a bit.
What I am trying to say is that people can have specialisms outside of their formal educational trajectories. However if they are outside of formal trajectories feel free to ask them how they got their knowledge on the specialism as the last thing you want is for the answer to be an app that is generally dark blue and helps people connect with others (you know which one I mean). Reading up on psychological topics can be done in different ways but you want that way to still have provided them with accurate and reliable information.
Another thing you are inquiring about with this question is what type of courses they took to obtain their degree. Basically it makes a huge difference if someone took courses in psychodynamics or work psychology. Of course this is dependent on what type of issue you are facing.
3. What treatments do you offer?
Treatment is a harsh word in psychology but says it the best. Therapeutic programs might be better but the point is that you know what I mean and treatments is more generally ‘’accepted’’ term. Either way inquiring about the psychological interventions that they offer is a good way to know whether they offer anything you are interested in.
Asking this question to a psychologist gives you the room to learn about the different options you have and what feels like something you would want to try. There is one big caveat in this which is that not all psychological interventions are suitable for all types of psychological problems. So definitely ask as a follow up what interventions would be potential options for your problems.
It is highly likely that your psychologist will say they would need to know more before they can determine that because it is only the first session. This is a very good thing to say of them! However basically all psychological interventions have indications for what type of psychological issues they would work best on. So don’t be afraid to probe a little more and get those answers out of your psychologist!
I do want to lend a helping hand to your psychologist and say that it’s not because a particular therapeutic intervention is suitable for your type of mental health problems that it is suitable for you. The only thing you are finding out right now is what type of psychological interventions would be suitable for your type of general problems along with what your psychologist has to offer.
3.1 What are your experiences with the therapeutics interventions that you offer?
This follow up question is super important. You want to know their experience in the specific therapeutic techniques they offer. Especially the ones that would potentially be suitable for you.
It’s okay to ask how long the psychologist has been using the technique and whether the outcomes have been desired. Even though you are asking about outcomes you are not asking about other patients. You are just asking your psychologist whether when using this technique they have gotten the results they were expecting and wanting.
If a psychologist starts telling you all about other patients in too many details, consider that a red flag for a psychologist. I am a psychologist and would very much consider that a red flag as privacy is important. The argument of you asking about whether the outcomes have been desirable is not an invitation or probe into other patients; it is purely directed toward the psychologist and the potential positive outcomes of the therapeutic intervention!
4. What are your psychological beliefs?
I think this might seem strange to some to ask this question but it is a very important question to ask. A psychologist’s psychological beliefs are the standpoint from where they practice. It can be a belief in the autonomy of people or an already established belief such as that of Karl Jung.
Finding out about their psychological belief is a way to find out about potential biases. If you have someone heavily believing that everything that doesn’t happen in your life is your fault they might have a bias towards an internal locus of control. Mind you this was a VERY extreme example just to get my point across.
I want to highlight that psychologists having their own biases is normal. We are people after all. Sharing what psychological beliefs we uphold helps you to know whether you can find yourself in that. It also helps you understand what kind of psychologist is sitting across from you.
Another important thing to know is that having a bias and making judgements are not one and the same ever. As a psychologist it is of the utmost, literally utmost importance to leave judgements outside in space and for them to never purposefully be invited in the room. Could it happen? Yes of course but this should be addressed in an accurate manner.
Something to know as a patient is that most psychologists are hopefully aware of their biases and know how to handle them in a way where they won’t disturb therapeutic practices. No psychologist can ever give you a 100% guarantee of this unless they are perfect. Just a heads up, perfect people don’t exist.
5. What is the cost of a session?
This might be one of those awkward questions to ask a psychologist. I understand that it might feel as if you are putting a price on getting the help you need. However we, thus psychologists and clients/patients, have to be realistic here. The psychologist needs to be compensated for their work and you need to be able to to afford their services. There really isn’t more to it.
Asking up front what the cost of a session is ultimately leaves you without any surprises later on, which is only a good thing!
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6. Is my insurance accepted?
In many countries with good healthcare or any form of healthcare plans there are a few sessions included in your insurance plan. This is a very important question to ask as it could be that the psychologist you are seeing does work with insurance but might not work with all of them. In the land of insurances there are lots of ifs and buts so asking this upfront is very important in especially in regard to question five.
To make sure you are covered I would also personally call your insurance company to find out what’s the deal as they might be able to provide you with a list of accepted psychologists. Or even give you the criteria they have for accepting the charge. Another important question to ask your insurance is whether they cover the cost of the full session or just a percentage of the cost. With insurance I always believe the devil is in details so make sure you smoke those out properly!
Another question you must ask your psychologist is whether they will send the invoice directly to your insurance or whether you are expected to pay upfront and can then claim the cost at your insurance.
No matter how good of an insurance plan you have you still have to know what the arrangements are between the psychologist and your insurance so make sure you talk to both parties so you won’t get burned down the road!
7. How are your therapy sessions structured?
With this question you are trying to find out what to expect during a session. Knowing this upfront is really nice because it allows both parties to know what is expected of one another.
Things that you will need answered with this question are cancellation policy and when you or the psychologist is running late. Another item that falls under session structure is general session rules for example sensitivities to curse words (yes, I know that you should be able to say any and everything during a session with a psychologist but best believe there are some out there who do not want curse words said during their session even when not said towards them).
Another example of general session rules is the literal structure of a session which could be something like; first 10 minutes talk about the previous session, 30-35 minutes exploring new territory and then the last 5-10 minutes talking about the takeaways for the session for you.
The example structure of a session above gives a session duration of 50 minutes which is quite common practice. However it can be that a session duration is 60 minutes. This is something you have to ask the psychologist. A question for your psychologist that is tied to the duration is what if you are not done with the session and the situation very much calls for some overtime. The possibility of this is something you need to discuss alongside the potential costs for the overtime, don’t forget about that!
Another thing to not forget to ask would be to possibility of double sessions. I know the general consensus is that most psychologists have more patients/clients than time. I understand that but it is not an excuse not to ask if you feel the need share a lot which you know can’t be covered properly in one session. Mostly double sessions are planned in agreement with the psychologist but knowing about the possibility is good.
I will repeat this a thousand times: asking your psychologist questions is a good thing! You need to know about the process as mush as your psychologist needs to know why you are there!
8. What is your experience with my type of problems?
Inquiring about a psychologist their experience with your specific type of problems might be one of the most important questions to ask. Now before I continue I don’t want you to get from this that I’m trying to down talk anyone who is a starting psychologist because they could be just as capable in helping you as someone who has been practicing 20 years.
What I mean by asking for their experience in your problems is that they know about potential therapeutic interventions, they know what on paper your problems entail and thus have a starting point. You want to find out that all the details that come with your specific problems are not something they are ‘’scared’’ of and/or are completely bewildered by.
Basically what you don’t want is someone who has been working with primary school kids on anxiety to be accepting you as an adult client with a majeure depression without having ‘’any’’ knowledge of this part of psychology. I have ‘’any’’ in quotations because if they got their psychology degree then the knowledge will have passed in front of them at some point. Whether they still know what was said is something to ask your psychologist. At the end of the day only they can tell you what kind of experiences and strengths they have with your type of problems.
9. What is your emergency policy?
The emergency policy is not something that many people use and also not all psychologists offer as with the type of patients they see it might not be necessary.
The emergency policy is a policy that details what to do when you feel absolutely awful and your mental problems are too much for you to handle on your own in that moment in time. It is for when you feel you’re crashing but there is no one there to help catch you. The emergency policy is then a life line that can be used.
As I said in the first paragraph some psychologists don’t have an emergency policy and might refer you to the general emergency services. This however is not a reason not to ask the question as it is important for you to know how to get help in the midst of your worst moments.
10. Can I not say something because I’m not ready yet?
Obligating you to talk is not something a psychologist should ever do even though it does happen because of a common misconception. Yes you already paid for the session and the point is to talk but forcing yourself to talk because of the reason above is not a good idea. It could basically only lead to you creating more problems for yourself because you are pushing away your own boundaries.
Discussing this with your psychologist creates space to be able to handle you not wanting to talk about a subject just yet. It helps your psychologist understand you and can adjust the process accordingly which is something very important for a psychologist to do.
Just for the record; feeling comfortable with your psychologist doesn’t always automatically mean that you have to say everything when you don’t want to yet. It is perfectly okay to go in your own time frame but knowing how your psychologist feels about this can help mayorly as this is such a common misconception when visiting psychologists.
11. Who has access to my files and to what I say?
Even though your psychologist is generally (there are legal exclusions to this) not allowed to speak to anyone about the things discussed between the two of you. It could be that your psychologist is part of an interdisciplinary team consisting of psychiatrists, dokters, nurses etc. Asking who has access to your files could help you build your trust in the psychologist and also get clear how exactly you are being helped.
Asking this question will also clarify what exactly is normal for your psychologist to write in your file. Will they write down everything you say in your patient file or is this something they keep separate? Do they discuss all patients in interdisciplinary meetings or just the ones with an interdisciplinary team? Both questions you could ask to know who all has access to your personal details.
Another thing you could ask is if you are allowed to read what it is they write. Mind you though some psychologists say no to this question because some use the things they write as personal scribbles to guide the session which would need an ‘’official’’ translator to help make sense to anyone but themselves. Whatever the case is, asking should never hurt the relationship you have with the psychologist and they very much should be able to give you a reasonable answer as to why not.
These 11 questions to ask a psychologist during your first session should hopefully help you start with the most information possible from the first session. The questions here might feel like you are interviewing your psychologist which is true. You should ask yourself the question of whether you feel that they would be a good fit for you based on the answers you collected above. It’s absolutely okay for that answer to be no! I honestly can’t stress this enough: having a good relationship wherein you feel comfortable is important.
To make things easier for you I made a little cheat sheet that you can easily print or keep on your phone and take with you to your first session. It’s short and concise but still gives you everything you need that you read here.
Don’t be afraid to ask your psychologist questions, the better informed you are the better advocate you are for yourself.
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