Starting therapy can be intimidating. This section provides important tips to help you through that first phone call. Dr. Gretchen-Doorly realizes the thought of telling a complete stranger your innermost thoughts and feelings often brings up a lot of emotions for people. Perhaps you feel guilty or ashamed about needing help. Maybe you are angry that you couldn’t fix your problem(s) on your own. These feelings are normal. When the first phone call you make with a therapist goes smoothly, you will feel more in control of the process. Dr. Gretchen-Doorly outlines a simple three step process to follow when you are ready to contact a potential therapist.
Complete a Self-Assessment
The most successful first phone calls occur when potential clients prepare before they even pick up the phone to talk to a therapist! To prepare yourself for that important first conversation, you should complete a self-assessment to help you communicate your needs clearly to a potential therapist.
Am I in crisis? Can I wait to meet with someone or do I need help now?
- If you are experiencing a crisis and need immediate assistance, now is not the time to interview a potential therapist! You should call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room right away.
How sure am I that I want or need therapy?
- It’s okay to not know what you want or have mixed feelings about starting therapy. Telling your potential therapist about this up front is helpful.
What do I want to accomplish in therapy, what are my goals?
- Think about what might make you feel better. What is not working for you in your life right now? Where do you feel “stuck”? Have other people in your life given you feedback about changes that you should consider?
What kind of approaches am I most drawn to? Am I interested in dealing with a current concern? Do I want to work on underlying emotions or patterns?
- It’s important for consumers to understand how different types of therapists approach common life problems. For example, if you’re not interested in understanding how your past influences your current behavior, you might not feel comfortable working with a psychodynamic therapist. Dr. Gretchen-Doorly explains the main approaches to therapy in the “Different Types of Psychologists” post on this website.
How important is it that the therapist has similar values/spiritual beliefs/sexual orientation/life experience to mine?
- Cultural compatibility is an important thing to consider when choosing a therapist. Think about the characteristics in another person that are essential to helping you feel comfortable and look for someone that matches your preferences. Always ask your potential therapist any questions about aspects of his or her cultural identity that are essential for you to know.
What’s my financial situation? How much can I afford to spend on therapy?
- There is a wide range of fees charged for therapy. Fees vary based on years of experience, quality and amount of training, degrees earned, and specializations.
- Dr. Gretchen-Doorly’s fees are described in the “Fees” section of this website.
- If you need help understanding insurance coverage for mental health services, click here to access the “Working With Your Insurance” section of this website.
- If you feel you need low cost or sliding scale therapy, click here to go to the “Referral Resources” section of this website.
When am I available and what locations work best for me?
- Traffic in Los Angeles is legendary! There is no point to choosing a therapist in a location that is too far from where you work or live. Dr. Gretchen-Doorly recommends that you choose someone no more than a 30 minute commute from where you spend most of your time.
- If you need a therapist with weekend or after work hours, be sure to ask a potential therapist about his or her work schedule.
Research Potential Therapists
Once you have done your first phone call homework, the next step is to find out as much as you can about your potential therapist. A great place to start is to ask someone you trust (i.e. your physician, a good friend) if he or she can recommend a therapist to you. If you are not comfortable doing that, you can anonymously research potential therapists online. This website contains links to several online therapist directories in the “Referral Resources” section. Therapists often have websites that are very informative and can answer many of your basic questions. Good websites will outline a therapist’s background, education, training, fees, policies, and theoretical orientation (approach to therapy).
Make the First Call
After you’ve done your self-assessment and conducted a little research on your potential therapist, you can concentrate on asking more in-depth questions during the first phone call that can’t be answered just by reviewing a website. The following list provides questions that are commonly asked during an initial phone call.
- Are you currently accepting new clients or patients? This is the most important question to ask FIRST! Therapist availability can change on a weekly, daily, or even hourly basis. If the therapist does not have any openings, and you’re still interested, ask if you can be placed on a waiting list.
- I am calling because I am having trouble with __________ (fill in the blank with the issue or issues you need help with). What experience do you have working with the types of problems I am experiencing?
- What is your approach to doing therapy in a situation such as this one?
- What has your success rate been with problems like this? Do you think you can help me?
- How and when will progress be assessed?
- How long will the treatment process take? How do you know when recovery is happening and therapy can stop?
- What types of things would you expect me to do between sessions, if anything?
- What days and times are you available to see people for therapy? Do you do phone sessions if I need something at a different time?
- What is your availability in an emergency? If you are not available, what are my alternatives?
- How will you work with other doctors, such as medical doctors, who may need to provide care? How often will you communicate with them?
- Do you deal directly with my insurance or do I need to do that?
- What would I have to do to be ready for the first session?