The relationship between you and your mental health team is one of the most important relationships you will ever form. Like all relationships, finding the right chemistry of personalities, values, and style is a process. You may already have an idea of specific challenges you want to work on or you may be looking to a trained professional to help you identify ways you can improve your overall mental health. To decide if someone you are meeting with for the first time will be a good fit or not, don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Consider for a moment that you are hiring a professional coach to “coach you though life.” Just like hiring any coach to help you get better at something, such as playing defensive line for a football team, improving your vocal abilities, and so forth… you would have a number of questions to make sure they will not only help you achieve your growth potential but mesh well with your personality, schedule availability, learning style, and so forth. The same should be true when selecting and meeting with a new peer-support, social worker, counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist.
Below is a checklist of common questions.
Not all will apply to your personal interest in meeting with a mental health provider. Decide which ones are most important to you and bring them with you to your first appointment. Don’t be afraid of advocating for yourself by sharing your interest in learning more about the person you are meeting with and have some questions you’d like to ask.
Provider, Appointments, and Treatment Specific:
- What are your credentials and level of education in the field of mental health?
- What can I expect from an average session with you (length, conversation style, Q&A, etc)?
- How will you get to know me; will you be asking about other elements of my life beyond my given reason for this initial visit?
- How do you respond to topics I may not be ready to discuss in part or in detail?
- Do you recommend family/friends join me for future sessions and if so, how do those sessions differ from one-on-one?
- Do you encourage peer-group therapy and if so, what types of groups do you or your clinic offer?
- Would you describe your approach to working with your clients?
- What might a treatment plan look like and how will I know where we are within that plan from one appointment to the next?
- Will my communications with you only occur when I am in your office or will you also call, email, or text me?
- If you believe referring me to another agency for additional support is something I would benefit from, exactly how would you make the referral (you calling them or me calling them)?
- What experience do you have treating people with my specific condition or needs?
- How will I specifically know that I am doing better under your care and how long do you believe it will take for me to improve?
- How much will you educate me on my diagnosis, beyond just helping me stabilize and work through my life challenges?
- What is your position on medication and do you have someone who prescribes medicine?
- What side effects might I experience if on medication and are there alternate treatments you might suggest that could be beneficial to my recovery?
- What happens if after I’m feeling better, my symptoms return in the future?
- Does your clinic deal directly with my insurance provider or I am responsible for it?
- How much will treatment cost me and how much will I be responsible for out of pocket?
- If I require in-patient or intense out-patient treatment, do you have admitting privileges at a hospital that is covered under my insurance?
- Are you willing to communicate with my other general and mental health providers to coordinate care?
- How hard is it to schedule an appointment?
- What times are you available to see me?
- How often do you recommend I schedule appointments with you?
- Do you accept walk-in appointments?
- Do you require appointments for everything or can I conduct some transactions (refills, adjustments, referrals) over the phone?
- What happens if I need to cancel or change an appointment? Is there a fee and if so, under what terms?
- How hard is it to contact you outside of business hours?
- Do you charge for non-emergency consults after hours?
- Will I be able to contact you in an emergency?
- Do you have an off-site receptionist during off-hours to assist me in the case of an emergency?
- If you aren’t available, is there a staff member who is “on call”?
- What kind of other staff do you use – interns, students, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, etc?
The above questions are a combination of Mental Health America
(MHA) contributions and those of Deeatra K.
Like any new relationship, building trust happens over time. The relationship that you have with your mental health provider is important! If the chemistry doesn’t feel right after your first few visits, you may want to consider asking for additional referrals and try someone different. Don’t give up! As long as you are ready to be honest with a provider (and yourself), you’re already on the right track. Your path toward mental wellness is a life-long journey, not a sprint. Embrace the experience with every step you take forward.