This week, Imagine Hope is discussing the important things to look for when finding a therapist who will be a good fit for you. As a therapist, it's always disheartening to see an individual, couple or family in therapy, who share a bad experience in their history of finding a therapist. One thing we emphasize at Imagine Hope is relationship-- the professional relationship with your therapist starts from the moment you first speak with them on the phone. Trust your instincts, have your questions ready to ask them, and don't be afraid to ask them questions to help you feel more comfortable in making the first steps towards getting healthier.
One EXTREMELY important thing that your therapist should be sharing with you is the expectations for therapy, or as we call it, "informed consent". What is informed consent? Informed consent is something that goes over the important parts of what you can expect from your therapist, and what your therapist expects from you. If your therapist sends you paperwork before your first session, PLEASE read it and become familiar with what it outlines. Your therapist will more than likely review the paperwork briefly at the time of your first session, but it is up to you to read it thoroughly. Below, we will review some more common and expected parts of what your therapist should be informing you of, prior to your first appointment:
Expectations, benefits and risks
Therapy is not like a medical doctors appointment. It is interactive and it is expected with most therapy that you will be an active participant in your counseling process. Your therapist might give you homework or assigned reading, or ask you to journal or do reflective assignments. Regardless of what the level of involvement is outside of sessions, your therapist should define the type of counseling they do, and let you know what kind of involvement is usually expected outside of session.
Your therapist should also let you know any risks involved in the therapy process, as well as the potential benefits to their theoretical perspective. Most people, in our experience, find the uncomfortable feelings that are addressed in counseling far outweigh the risks to processing them, but this is something your therapist should share with you in their informed consent.
Confidentiality & privacy practices
Therapy sessions are strictly confidential, and your therapist should inform you of confidentiality, as well as any limitations to confidentiality. For example, if you share that you are going to hurt yourself or someone else, your therapist is legally obligated to make sure that you (and others) are safe. This would warrant them breaking your confidentiality. Your therapist should also ensure that you are familiar with how information can be shared at your request with outside parties, as well as how files are secured in their office.
Cost and Billing
Your therapist should inform you of session fees, as well as their billing practices. Are session fees due at the time of service? Does your therapist accept insurance? If so, what are their policies around billing insurance? These are important questions to ask, and something your therapist will inform you of, prior to your first session.
Credentials, education, training and experience
Your therapist should outline their educational experience, how long they have been in practice, any credentials or license they have attained, and the areas of treatment they specialize in. If you are concerned about your therapist not having knowledge or expertise in a certain area, feel free to ask them about this!
Session length and cancellation policies
Your therapist should inform you of how long sessions are, and any policies they have about time. For example, in our practice, if a client is running late, the time starts at the client's scheduled appointment time, in order to respect any appointments scheduled immediately after. You should know beforehand how your therapist handles session times and if they allow you to schedule longer appointments if needed. Most therapy sessions are 50 minutes long, but this is important to know prior to starting therapy. It is also extremely important to know how your therapist handles cancellations. Do they require 24 or 48 hours notice to avoid being charged for appointments? What is the policy if you no-show or cancel (without sufficient notice) more than a couple of times? Every therapist is different with how they handle cancellations, but a good therapist will have healthy boundaries.
Contacting your therapist outside of sessions and in emergencies
Your therapist should inform you of how to contact them outside of session. Does your therapist allow email contact outside of session? Phone calls? When are they available and if they aren't available, who should you contact? If a therapist does not offer emergency services, they should provide an emergency contact in their informed consent, as well as on their outgoing voice mail. Some therapists do not allow therapy type contact between sessions via email or texting, due to the difficulty that written information can present to the therapeutic process. So much can be misinterpreted with written formatting, and many therapists prefer to have their clients face to face, in order to minimize any misinterpretation that could occur. Some therapists treat this on a case by case basis, especially for clients who have trust issues or struggle with putting spoken words to how they feel. This is important for you to know, so that you can know what to expect from your counseling experience.
These are just a few of the areas that your therapist should outline before starting therapy with you. We hope you have found this weeks blog helpful!
Joleen Watson, MS, LMFTA, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling. Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.