Typical psychologist questions
Therapy Questions Every Therapist Should Be Asking
Healing conversations are an art form in peril of being lost to our busy lives.
The ultimate goal of talk therapy is to enable the process of psychological and emotional healing along the continuum from the problematic toward a sense of greater mental wellbeing.
Although we often come to therapy with a problem, we also come as people who want to be heard and understood, feel like we matter, wish to learn self-compassion, and want to find partnership in helping us heal and see ourselves and our life situation in a different light.
I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.
Progress in a therapeutic relationship cannot be made unless the client feels safe to speak their mind, and it is on the practitioner to create that climate of openness and transparency.
The process also often requires the clinician’s willingness to work diligently to help clients understand what they want, the patience to help them learn to own all aspects of themselves, including contradictory feelings, and the ability to create a safe space to allow for transformation to occur.
Most of what happens in talk therapy is accomplished through the skillful use of questions, but only second to a lot of active listening.
This article surveys different approaches to asking therapeutic questions meant for both practitioners and their clients and gives examples of how the quality of questions we ask can improve our lives. For more common therapy questions, see our related post: Classic Therapy Questions Therapists Tend to Ask.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.
This Article Contains:
- 7 Questions Designed for the First Therapy Session
- Therapy Intake Questions to Ask Patients
- 15 Useful Therapy Questions to Ask Yourself
- 20 Couples Therapy Questions Designed to Improve Relationships
- 30 Family Therapy Assessment Questions
- The Family Therapy Questions Game
- Therapeutic Questions for Youth
- 15 Therapeutic Questions for Group Therapy Discussions
- A Take-Home Message
7 Questions Designed for the First Therapy Session
The first therapy session must focus on relationship building and creating rapport, which are necessary to establish an effective foundation for a practitioner–client relationship, often referred to as the therapeutic alliance. The outcomes of therapy are heavily dependent on the quality of this relationship (Lambert & Barley, 2001).
Ideally, the first therapy session should be a form of positive inception so the practitioner can set the stage for future interactions. Carl Rogers (1961) used to say that the therapist must create an environment where everyone can be themselves.
Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life.
Shannon L. Alder
The very first question in therapy is usually about the presenting problem or the chief complaint for which the client comes to therapy, often followed by an exploration of the client’s past experience with therapy, if any, and their expectations of future outcomes of therapy.
1. What brings you here today?
For clients who need encouragement to open up, it may be helpful to remark on their bravery in seeking therapy.
For those who are at the other extreme and go into a lengthy and detailed explanation of their issues, perhaps having been in therapy before, it is best to listen empathically first before complimenting them on how well they appear to know themselves and how they have thought a lot about what they would like to talk about in therapy.
2. Have you ever seen a counselor before?
For those who are in therapy for the first time, observing how comfortable and confident they are in talking about the challenges in their life can help set the stage for further disclosure.
It may be helpful to set some expectation of what is going to happen in the therapeutic process by explaining how asking questions is at the core of the process and reassuring the client that they should feel free to interrupt at any time and to steer the conversation to where they need it to go.
If the client has seen a counselor before, it can prove very valuable to inquire further about their previous experience in therapy by asking about frequency, duration, and issues discussed during their previous engagements, as well as one thing they remember most that a former counselor told them.
An important aspect for gaging clients’ engagement in the process of therapy is asking them about what went right or didn’t turn out the way they would have liked in their previous therapeutic engagement, as this can point to where they place the sense of responsibility for their situation.
Inquiring if the client achieved the results they sought and if they have been successful in maintaining them outside of the therapeutic relationship can also provide valuable insight into their motivation for change.
3. What do you expect from the counseling process?
Establishing a mutual agreement and setting expectations for the engagement is crucial to making progress. Clients’ goals and preferences for the format and level of interaction need to be taken into consideration.
Some clients like to vent and have the counselor listen; others want a high level of interaction and a spirited back-and-forth. It is also important to inquire how the client learns best and if they like to receive homework.
Other examples of questions that can point to the tone and flow of future communications can include the following:
- How many meetings do you think it will take to achieve your goals?
- How might you undermine achieving your own goals?
- How do you feel about using good advice to grow from?
- How will we know when we have been successful in achieving your goals for therapy?
Therapy Intake Questions to Ask Patients
Levy et al. (2018) analyzed records from healthcare providers and found that:
- 45.7% of adults avoided telling their providers that they disagreed with their care recommendations.
- 81.8% of adults withheld information because they didn’t want to be lectured or judged.
Many aspects of clients’ lives can influence their engagement and progress in therapy.
Indeed, questions about preexisting medical conditions, current and past treatments, medications, and family history are essential to the effective assessment of needs and the successful provision of therapeutic treatment. Therefore, having a clear picture of these details is a critical part of the initial intake process.
In order to gather this information securely and efficiently, therapists are increasingly drawing on digital technologies. For instance, using a blended care platform such as Quenza (pictured here), therapists can design and distribute standardized sets of intake materials, such as forms and agreements, that clients can complete on their own devices and at a time that suits them.
The benefits of providing intake forms digitally is that they can facilitate better documentation and record keeping for practitioners. Additionally, and unlike paper forms, they can be programmed to ensure no critical questions are accidentally missed.
It is important to note that while most therapists do not prescribe medication, many often partner with other medical professionals by making recommendations, particularly in instances when clients have been referred for therapy.
A complete adult intake form is included below and can be a useful guide for some of the issues that may require further exploration.
|Adult history form|
|How did you get here today?|
|Walked||Taxi||Drove myself||Driven by:||_____________________||Bus|
|Person completing form (relationship to the patient):|
|Check any mental or emotional problems that you have:|
|Learning problems (needed special classes in school, learning disabilities, slow learner, brain damage)|
|Depression (often feeling very sad)|
|Anxiety (often feeling very nervous)|
|Hallucinations (hearing voices or seeing things that others don’t)|
|Can’t get along with other people|
|Drink too much alcohol|
|Use illicit drugs (cannabis, heroin, cocaine, etc. )|
|Check any problems below that apply to you:|
|Autism||Seizure disorder||Mental retardation||Bipolar (manic depressive)|
|Schizophrenia||Brain tumor||Stroke||Speech problems|
|Heart attack||Brain injury||Lost consciousness||War or violent crime experience|
|Marital status:||Married||Divorced||Never married||Widowed|
|How many times have you been married?|
|How many children do you have?||Children’s ages?|
|Whom do you live with?|
|If divorced, when (your age or the year)?|
|If widowed, when?|
|Check any statement that applies:|
|My father died when I was_____|
|My mother died when I was_____|
|My parents separated or divorced when I was_____|
|I was raised by both parents.|
|Where do you live?||Apartment||Hotel||Group home||House Homeless||Other|
|Where were you born?||City||Country|
|If you were born outside the USA, when did you come to this country?|
|Circle the last grade you completed:||1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9|
|Educational degrees:||HS Grad||GED||Assoc.||Bach.||Master’s||Doc.|
|College (number of years):|
|Were you in special education classes?||Yes||No|
|What was your grade average in high school?||A B C D E F|
|What language do you speak best?|
|What types of work have you done (i. e., labor, cashiering, gardening, teaching, construction, etc.):|
|What was the longest time you stayed at a job?|
|What did you do at your last job?|
|When did you last work?|
|Why did your last job end?|
|List any medical (not psychiatric or behavioral) problems that you have been diagnosed with:|
|List all medications which you currently take:|
|Medication||Dose (mg)||Times per day||For what problem?|
|Have you ever had surgery? List your age when you had surgery and the reason below.|
|Have you ever been hospitalized overnight for medical reasons other than surgery? List your age when you were hospitalized and the reason.|
|Mental health history:|
|Have you ever been placed in a psychiatric hospital?|
|If yes, list your age when you were hospitalized and the reason.|
|Have you ever seen a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist?|
|If yes, at what age did you attend sessions?|
|How long did you attend?|
|Reason you attended|
|Type of therapist (PhD, MD, School)|
|Has a doctor ever prescribed medication to you to help with depression, anxiety, behavior, or mental problems (such as Ritalin, antidepressants, etc.)?|
|If yes, age when medication was prescribed|
|To help with what problem?|
|Type of medication?|
|Did you ever attempt suicide?|
|If yes, how many times?|
|When was the first time?|
|When was the last time?|
|How did you try to do it?|
|How many times have you been arrested or charged with a crime?|
|Never 1 2 3 4 5 or more|
|If yes, what crimes have you been charged with?|
|How old were you the first time you were in trouble with the law?|
|When were you last charged with a crime?|
|Have you ever been in jail or prison?|
|Alcohol and drugs:|
|How often do you drink alcohol?|
|Every day||Few times a week||Few times a month||Once a month or less||Never|
|Has drinking alcohol ever caused problems for you (other people tell you to drink less, legal issues, relationship problems)?|
|If yes, at what age did alcohol start to cause problems?|
|When did you have your last drink?|
|Have you ever used illicit drugs?|
|If yes, which ones?||Cannabis||Cocaine||PCP||Sniff glue/paint||Heroin|
|When did you last use a drug?|
|How old were you when you first used a drug?|
|Driving: Check the one that applies:|
|I have never driven a car.|
|I still drive.|
|I used to drive a car but haven’t since:|
|Are you able to shower, bathe, and groom yourself without help?|
|Are you able to get dressed by yourself?|
|Are you able to pay bills and keep track of money without help from other people?|
|Describe what you do in a typical day:|
15 Useful Therapy Questions to Ask Yourself
We get into thinking ruts and routines and often function on autopilot without giving much consideration to the way we go about our day or spend our time and energy.
We can break this mindless cycle by asking meaningful questions of ourselves and reflecting deeply on our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Many self-help therapy books have popularized a way of doing just that.
One such approach can be found in vastly popular notebooks that provide inspirational therapy quotes or reflective writing prompts that get our cognitive wheels spinning.
The most important questions in life can never be answered by anyone except oneself.
John Fowles, The Magus
Another important form of self-inquiry is to ask yourself questions that we can’t answer honestly in the presence of anyone else, probing and burning questions that we can often only answer for ourselves. They may require some reflection, examination of values, and perhaps writing, if only to organize our thoughts.
Here is a list of important questions we should revisit periodically:
- Assessing our life satisfaction – Tools like the Wheel of Life (accessible via the linked post) or one of the many Happiness Assessments are a great place to start.
- Exploring meaning in our lives – Our masterclass in Meaning and Valued Living is a great place to start.
- Defining our values – value exploration exercises
- Finding character strengths – VIA Strengths Assessment
- Visualizing goals – SMART goal setting, tracking how we invest our time with experience sampling method or Miracle Question (included below)
- Cultivating gratitude – Three good things exercise
- Practicing forgiveness – Empty chair technique (included below)
- Making bucket lists
Other useful questions are those that we can use to motivate ourselves. For example, appreciative inquiry questions focus on strengths and the propelling power our past successes can have on self-efficacy and motivation toward goal pursuit.
Here are a few examples of questions and prompts based on appreciative inquiry:
- Think back through your career. Locate a moment that was a high point, when you felt most productive and engaged. Describe how you felt and what made the situation possible.
- Without being humble, describe what you value most about yourself and your work.
- Describe your three concrete wishes for your future.
- Describe the most energizing moment, a real “high” from your professional life. What made it happen?
- How do you stay professionally affirmed, renewed, enthusiastic, and inspired?
Sometimes, self-therapy can feel like chasing our tail, particularly for those who already live in their heads a bit too much and may feel a bit stuck.
The most important questions to ask ourselves at this point are those that allow us to evaluate whether we should be reaching for help and if our situation warrants considering therapy.
- Have I struggled to be myself lately?
- Has daily life felt harder lately?
- Do I have a confidante who I can trust to be impartial?
- Is there a big choice in my life I have been struggling with?
- Is my worry increasing, and are my thoughts less logical?
- Have I lost interest in things I used to love lately?
- Have friends been avoiding me or saying they have been worried about me?
- Am I just not bouncing back from something?
- Do I have a habit that I keep secret from others that causes me ongoing shame and life problems?
- Do I spend most of my time feeling worthless compared to others?
20 Couples Therapy Questions Designed to Improve Relationships
Dr. John Gottman, an expert marriage therapist who has observed couples for over 40 years, tells us that we have a very high chance for miscommunication in close relationships (Gottman & Silver, 2015).
How do we cope with those unfavorable odds? Through acceptance, the practice of active listening, and the realization that relational conflict is an opportunity for growth.
Lack of acceptance is often an important component of relationship gridlock, as it causes both people to feel criticized or rejected (Gottman & Silver, 2015). There are always two points of view, both valid and right, from within each perception.
The need to be right prevents us from actively listening to each other. Communicating fundamental acceptance instead of rejection of the other person’s personality is therefore basic to all effective problem solving.
Active listening requires practice and comes down to moving from self-informed certainty to curiosity about the other person. It helps to adopt an “and stance,” where both stories are valid, the world is complex, both partners can get angry, both contribute to the situation, and both are doing their best.
Couples can improve their odds of having a productive talk by (Gottman & Silver, 2015):
- Finding things in common (Gottman and Silver recommend having good Love Maps of each other)
- Getting to know each other’s flexible and inflexible areas for negotiations
- Offering to help meet the core needs of another person
- If gridlock seems unavoidable, figuring out if we need a temporary compromise
What often happens in couples therapy is an equivalent of the two people getting to know each other in a different way, improving communications, and learning that conflict can be an opportunity for growth.
Some of the most common questions explored in couples therapy include:
- Why choose today?
- How did you decide to come to therapy?
- What brought you together in the first place?
- How does your relationship affect your levels of joy?
- What do you wish your partner would do more?
- How do you cultivate trust in your relationship?
- Describe your level of satisfaction with intimacy in your relationship.
- How would you rate your communication skills: negative, neutral, or positive?
- What positive relationship rules do you follow?
- In the recent past, what did you do when your partner disappointed you?
- How much can you recall about what your partner did last week?
- How would you describe your other relationships, like those with family and friends?
- What family conflicts have you been embroiled in recently?
- What relationship have you been in that you judged to be a failure?
- Who do you call upon when your heart is hurting?
- What is your most significant vulnerability or Achilles heel in relationships?
- What is your relationship forecast for both now and in the future?
- What counseling questions do you hope aren’t asked?
30 Family Therapy Assessment Questions
Some of the most important relationships in our lives can be both a source of happiness and the greatest struggle at the same time. The closest people in our lives influence in no small degree who we become as a person and shape our view of the world around us in significant ways we often underestimate.
Some approaches to family therapy employ systemic interpretations; for example, depression may be viewed as a symptom of a problem in the larger family.
When a family seeks counseling, the questions focus on the relationship’s dynamics, everyone’s met and unmet needs, and goals for the relationships. Assessing these factors, while it may seem complicated at first, is nevertheless worth the time.
Dysfunctional communication patterns within the family can be identified and corrected through teaching family members how to listen, ask questions, and respond non-defensively.
The genogram is one such tool used in family therapy. It’s mostly a family tree that provides a visual representation of three to four generations and explores how patterns or themes within families influence their current behavior and identifies whether relationships in the family have been close, distant, or ridden with conflicts.
It asks about values, beliefs, traditions, characteristics, and habits of family members, including health issues, alcohol and drug use, physical and mental health, violence, crime and trouble with the law, employment, and education. See Simple Guide to Genograms.
Some of the questions about relationships between family members include:
- Who are you closest to?
- What is/was your relationship like with… ?
- How often do you see… ?
- Where does … live now?
- Is there anyone here that you really don’t get along with?
- Is there anyone else who is very close in the family? Or who really don’t get along?
When exploring patterns and themes, good questions are:
- Who are you most like?
- What is … like? Who else is like them?
- Did anyone else leave home early?
- Is anyone else interested in art/science/etc.?
The following questions may also help explore the family background and family dynamics:
- Who is important to you in your life? Why are these particular people important?
- Who provides the most support in your life?
- How have members of your family reacted to the problems that you are currently experiencing?
- Are members of your extended family aware of what you have been experiencing?
- What was it like growing up in your family?
- Perhaps you could talk about some of the memories, both good and not so good.
- What is it like for you right now living in your family?
- How do you think your family might describe you? What qualities or strengths might they say you have?
- Are there members of your extended family who you feel close to or feel that you have something in common with?
- Did you feel safe in your family?
- How does your family handle disagreements?
- Is it okay to express your emotions in your family? To feel happy, sad, frustrated, angry, content, etc.?
- Tell me about your different family members and how they express their emotions.
- Were there times when you were worried about any of your family members? Why were you worried? How were these concerns handled?
- What qualities do you bring to your family that are special or unique?
- Were there any special activities that you did together?
- Did your family mix with other families?
- What other information would you like me to know about your family that will be helpful during our time together?
The Family Therapy Questions Game
One of the most effective ways to address family dynamics, particularly when it involves children, is by playing games. It removes the formality and allows for interaction to unfold in a nonthreatening way that often brings out the best in all participants.
While it is fun for the children, it also allows the adults to regress for a moment and get down to the level of being playful and spontaneous. In the end, we find out that we don’t know as much as we thought we did about the most important people in our lives.
The family conversation starters below can be used in a family therapy session as well as at home. They can and should be personalized in a way that is age appropriate and has a specific goal in mind: to bring family members together, help them communicate effectively, express their emotions, or move toward constructive problem solving.
Another great activity known as ‘What will they say?‘ encourages family members to guess what another family member will say in response to a question (Lowenstein, 2010).
It allows family members not only to get to know each other better, but also to develop skills in asking each other questions, understanding that there are things that are similar between family members and things that are different. Finally, it helps make the point that family members, especially parents, may not know as much about each other as they think they do.
Create at least 20 questions, such as:
- What is your favorite color?
- What is your favorite dessert?
- Who do you think gets angry the most in the family?
- Who cries the most in the family?
- Who laughs the most in the family?
- Who watches TV the most in the family?
- Who gives the most support to you?
- Who gives Mom/Dad the most support?
- What would the family member on your left like to get for their birthday?
- Who is the best at following the rules?
- Who sets the most rules?
To use these games effectively, it helps to make sure the questions connect to a family goal. The game can move reasonably quickly, giving everyone a turn and ending the session on a high note. Finally, many existing games, especially games and activities the family is already familiar with, can be adapted to provide an opportunity for a meaningful conversation.
Therapeutic Questions for Youth
There is no time more ridden with unanswered questions and throbbing with urgency as in our youth.
As teens grapple with discovering their identities and setting directions for their lives, it is an excellent opportunity to set standards for a self-reflective and inquisitive mind that is open to honest discussions and not afraid to ask questions.
As the saying goes, if we ask good questions, we get better answers. Below is a list of questions most frequently used in therapy with pre-teens to young adults and that anyone might find interesting.
- What is the best compliment you have received?
- In your opinion, what is the best song ever written?
- If you could know one thing about the future, what would it be?
- What is something you feel nervous about right now?
- What is your happiest memory?
- What is something that you did that you are proud of?
- If someone’s underwear were showing, would you tell them?
- I get mad when…
- What calms you down when you get angry or upset?
- What is your favorite animal and why?
- My favorite sound is…
- What is your favorite green thing?
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
- If your house was burning down, what one item would you grab and why?
- Name two anger management techniques.
- Name two positive values.
- Name two ways you can show self-control in the school setting.
- What would be the title of your autobiography?
- Do you think people talk differently online than they do in person? Why?
- What is one item you can’t live without?
- What would you do if you were hungry and a lunchbox was left open and unattended?
- What is better, giving your money or giving your time?
- If you could add, change, or cancel one rule in your school, what would it be?
- What does “habit” mean, and why is it hard to change?
- Who do you trust the most and why?
- Where do you feel the safest and why?
- If you could change one rule that your family has, what would it be and why?
- What is one word you would use to describe your family and why?
- How do you think others view you and why?
- If you could travel back in time to years ago and visit your younger self, what advice would you give yourself?
- What five words best describe you?
- If you could make one rule that everyone in the world had to follow, what would it be and why?
- What does respect mean to you? Give an example.
- What do you like the most about yourself?
- If you could give one gift to every child in the world, what would it be and why?
- What do you think is the most important job in the world? Why?
- Tell us about a time when you felt sad. What helped get you through it?
- What is the first symptom you notice when you feel mad?
- Give two examples of acts of kindness.
- Who is someone you consider a real-life hero and why?
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
- Who do you wish you had a better relationship with, and what would make it better?
- Share a time where you sought attention in an appropriate way. And in a negative way?
- Choose one person in this room and compliment them.
- Give two examples of communication with a teacher who accuses you of something you didn’t do.
- Talk about a time when you witnessed someone being teased. What effect did the teasing have on that person?
One assessment tool that is particularly useful in work with young people with complex needs is the ecomap. It is a visual representation of current family relationships and also community and social networks where clients are encouraged to identify whether their relationships with their peers, school, social clubs, professionals, are strong, weak, or stressful. See Queensland Government Interview Resource – Ecomap.
15 Therapeutic Questions for Group Therapy Discussions
Group therapy serves two distinct goals. While it addresses exploration of issues very much in the same way that individual therapy does, it also serves the purpose of finding ourselves in the environment where we feel less isolated from other people because many of those in the room share similar struggles.
Just as in individual therapy, clients often enact the same tendencies they bring to all their other relationships, and the client interaction within a group can often be a good reflection of how they show up in the relationships with other people in their lives (Yalom, 1983).
While the therapist is trained in delivering structure for the discussion and guiding the questions, the biggest benefit lies in the exchange between participants. Leaders within the group are usually appointed and tasked with looking for commonalities among members and encouraging everyone to be supportive of each other.
Most group therapies are done in a round-robin discussion format. Rules of conduct are established and adhered to, roles assigned for leaders of the group, and the room set up usually in a circle to encourage collaboration and everyone having a voice. Questions used in group therapy often focus on very much the same themes as individual therapy and include the reasons for being there and the expectations for the future.
- Let’s start by spending a few minutes talking about the benefits of group therapy and what positive psychology groups are about.
- Let’s go around and have each member tell us what you expect to get out of the group
- Where else might you have been at this moment if you hadn’t come to this group session today?
- What might you have chosen to do?
- Is it your own decision to come here, or did someone else encourage you to do so?
- How do you feel about coming here each week?
- What do you like best about this session?
- Is there something you don’t enjoy about this group session?
- Are you particularly looking forward to anything?
Depending on the purpose of the group, be it anger management, bereavement, substance abuse, etc. , the content and the topics of discussion may vary. Although in a typical session, several topics and questions are provided, group leaders need not ask all questions or address all topics; instead, questions and topics should be selected as they relate to what is happening in the group. Some general questions could include:
- What brought each of you into the group?
- Tell us two or three words that best describe you.
- Now, thinking about those words, how do they relate to why you are here?
- What is your favorite thing about yourself, something that makes you feel positive and proud to be you?
- Is there something new that has happened in your life recently?
Homework assignments and progress logs can be used between sessions, and educational material and handouts may be distributed. Many sessions start with reviews of progress and end with a recap of the activities.
A Take-Home Message
The value of deep, probing questions need not be reserved for the therapy session. There is no reason why we can’t have more of these healing conversations in our lives, but it is both an art and science and requires some practice. We can all get better at asking questions we want answers to, and applying the therapeutic approach to the process of self-discovery can prove a worthwhile endeavor.
The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.
What questions do you think are important to ask, in therapy or not?
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.
- Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the country’s foremost relationship expert. Harmony.
- Lambert, M., & Barley, D. E. (2001). Research summary on the therapeutic relationship and psychotherapy outcome. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 38(4), 357–361.
- Levy, A. G., Scherer, A. M., Zikmund-Fisher, B. J., Larkin, K., Barnes, G. D., & Fagerlin, A. (2018). Prevalence of and factors associated with patient nondisclosure of medically relevant information to clinicians. JAMA Network Open, 1(7).
- Lowenstein, L. (2010). Creative family therapy techniques: Play, art, and expressive activities to engage children in family sessions. Champion Press.
- Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy.
- Yalom, I. D. (1983). Inpatient group psychotherapy. Basic Books.
Introductory Questions from Therapists I Psych Central
Prepping for therapy? While every therapist has their own approach, there are common questions you may be asked at your first appointment.
So, you made your first therapy appointment. It might be your first therapy session ever, or you’re just switching to a new therapist.
Either way, going to a therapist for the first time can feel overwhelming to some. You might go back and forth on whether to even go. Many schedule, cancel, and reschedule that first appointment.
Not knowing what to expect can make you even more reluctant to keep your appointment. It’s OK to be nervous. It’s natural to feel this way when meeting someone for the first time — even a therapist.
To ease those first-appointment jitters, we share the most common questions a therapist may ask during that initial meeting.
Before your first appointment, you might be asked to complete a written or online form. You can choose to answer the questions on this form, or decline to answer them at that time.
The first appointment is usually called an intake session. During an intake session, the therapist will introduce themselves and review the online form and any other intake forms with you.
One of those forms is an Informed Consent — a document you sign agreeing to enter into therapy. This document also typically includes:
- your therapist’s information — name, credentials, and license number
- policies, including a cancellation and no show policy
- limits of confidentiality
- patient rights
- risks and benefits
You may also be given additional questionnaires, depending on your needs and symptoms.
The questionnaire may include questions about your medical and mental health history and your family history. Try to be as open and honest as possible, as this will help your therapist tailor your treatment in a way that’s most beneficial for you.
During your first appointment, you’ll be asked a number of questions. These will help the therapist understand your background, along with your present and future goals.
Questions may vary based on the type of therapy and type of therapist you’re seeing.
Why are you seeking therapy at this time?
People go to therapy for a variety of reasons. You’ll be asked to explain why you’re seeking therapy to give the therapist an idea of your goals.
This also allows your therapist to find appropriate referrals if they’re not well-trained in your specific issues, or allows them to consult with other therapists or professionals with knowledge in that area.
What do you expect from therapy?
There’s a common misconception about the role of therapists. Therapists aren’t there to give you advice and tell you how to feel or behave. You can get that type of advice talking with friends or family.
Therapists are there to help you become more self-aware, meet your goals, and reflect on the best choices for you.
They’re also trained to help you determine if your symptoms are caused by a mental health condition, and they can recommend treatment, if needed.
Have you been in therapy before? What was that experience like?
This question can help your therapist understand what you expect from therapy. It will also tell them if you’ve had a bad experience before so they can figure out if something heightens your symptoms.
Some people who go to therapy want tangible coping skills, while others might just be looking for a safe place with someone to listen and support them.
Whatever your reasons for seeking therapy, you don’t have to feel ashamed.
Are you having suicidal thoughts right now, or have you had suicidal thoughts within the past month?
There are only a few exceptions to confidentiality in therapy, and harm to yourself or others is one of those exceptions.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, being honest about them is the best way to get help. The therapist will work with you on a safety plan and try to find out if additional measures are needed.
Are you having homicidal thoughts, or have you had homicidal thoughts in the past month?
This is another exception to the confidentiality rule that a therapist might ask to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you.
Remember that the therapist has a legal duty to warn and protect individuals if there’s a threat of harm.
Do you have supportive people in your life? If so, who?
Therapists ask this question because support systems increase positive mental health and well-being.
In fact, research suggests that having supportive people in your life is also linked with a lower chance of suicide and a quicker recovery.
How is your relationship with your family?
This allows therapists to learn a lot of information about you and your background. It can clue them in to whether you have healthy relationships with those in your life.
This question may unearth painful memories or trauma. But you don’t have to address these issues if you don’t want to do so at this time.
How do you cope with stress?
The way you handle stress will help your therapist determine treatment and coping strategies that might work for you.
If you’re having trouble coping, providing you with skills and strategies to try may be a part of your treatment plan. If you have good coping methods, they may encourage and advise you how to use these skills during times of distress.
What are some of your strengths?
If you’re open about your strengths, your therapist can help you learn to use your strengths when things feel overwhelming.
What are the goals you want to accomplish in therapy?
You may be bringing a lot to the therapy session regarding goals and what you want to work on.
This question helps you focus on what’s truly important and allows the therapist to create a plan of treatment based on your response.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), there are many types of mental health professionals who can provide therapy, including:
Counselors, clinicians, and therapists
These professionals have attained a master’s in therapy or a related field such as psychology, marriage or family therapy, or counseling psychology. These pros are trained to use therapeutic techniques and assess a person’s mental health.
Common licenses in this group include:
- licensed professional counselor (LPC)
- licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT)
- licensed clinical alcohol and drug abuse counselor
Social workers are very similar to LPCs, as they also have precise training in assessing and treating a person’s mental health. In addition, they hold a master’s degree in social work.
Common licenses and certifications in this group are:
- licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)
- licensed independent social worker (LICSW)
- certified social worker (ACSW)
These professionals hold a doctorate degree in psychology (PsyD), philosophy (PhD), or another type of specialty such as counseling. Psychologists usually have longer and more supervised training programs than professionals who hold a master’s degree.
While they can provide therapy, they’re also trained to do assessments and psychological testing.
Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors who have studied psychiatric conditions and completed psychiatric training. They can provide therapy, prescribe and monitor medications, and diagnose mental health conditions.
Psychiatrists typically hold one of these doctoral degrees:
- doctor of medicine (MD)
- doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO)
Psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners
These professionals hold either a master of science (MS) or a doctorate degree (PhD) in nursing, focusing on psychiatry. Together with other mental health professionals, they help monitor your condition and track your progress.
They can consult with you on medications and help determine which medication is best to help manage your symptoms. Practitioners might also provide physical and psychiatric assessments, emergency care, and evaluate treatment.
Though they can be helpful with medications and monitoring your progress, they’re not typically the first choice for psychotherapy.
Your first session can be exhausting. Sharing your emotions and bringing up painful memories and feelings can be emotionally draining.
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed and tired.
But don’t give up! You’ve started the work — and that’s the first step to finding some relief and improving your well-being.
After that first session, consider how you and the therapist relate to each other. If it’s not a good fit, that’s OK. Finding a good therapist that best fits you and your needs might take some time.
Now that you know the types of questions to expect, it might ease some of your worries and make you feel more relaxed and confident as you prepare for your first appointment.
Remember that just because a therapist asks a question doesn’t mean you have to answer it.
Ultimately, the answers to these questions are helpful, but you can also let the therapist know when you’re not comfortable sharing certain information.
It’s OK to hit pause on certain issues or put it to the side for now. The key is to find a therapist and build a safe space where difficult or painful issues can unfold naturally and at your pace.
Your own psychologist: answer these 20 questions to understand yourself
- Westend61 / Getty Images
what is truly important to you, what you have been running from all your life and where your real dreams live. Ask them to yourself, listen to yourself, change your life!
1. If I could leave only one memory in my entire life, what would it be?
I love this question! It crystallizes what in our life can be called the most important. People answering this question suddenly realize what were the highlights of their lives: time spent with family; moments associated with pursuing a favorite hobby, or traveling.
2. If my life were a movie, how would I like to continue it?
One day my friend saw this question written on misted glass and it changed his life. After him, he quit his unloved job and decided to devote all his time to his hobby, which now made him one of the most famous people in the city.
- Westend61 / Getty Images
3. What would I do if I knew exactly what I could do?
The main question to ask yourself. It shows exactly what you would be doing if you didn't have fears, excuses, and other ridiculous reasons for not living the life you want.
4. What's wrong?
The Buddhist monk Tit Nhat Khan once said that we too often ask ourselves the question "What's wrong?", concentrating on the negative. Our life would be much happier and more spiritual if we asked ourselves: “What is it?” The answer to this question allows us to be grateful at least for the fact that we woke up this morning, in contrast to the 160 thousand people who did not open their eyes today.
5. What accomplishments am I proud of?
Make a list of things you are proud of. You can add even seemingly insignificant things there, such as cooking classes. When you see on paper your reasons for pride, your level of self-worth will jump up.
6. What do I think my parents didn't give me?
Asking yourself this question, you will see what you will strive for all your life. If you think that you were not loved as a child, then all your life you will run after other people in an attempt to get love from them.
- BullRun / Adobe Stock
7.How should my parents never treat me?
By answering this question, you will see situations from which you will run all your life ( read also : Every parent makes this mistake: 6 phrases that turn a child into a loser). For example, my friend thinks that her mother was too protective of her. And now she perceives even the usual care of herself as hyperprotection and flies off the coils.
8. What are the top three mistakes in my life I don't want to repeat?
They say that the rake is divided into two types: 1) that teach something and 2) my favorite. Think about what “your favorite rake” is repeated from year to year?
9. My best decision in the last five years is…
Five years ago, I made the decision to give up my beautiful life and TV job in Moscow for the dream of becoming a writer. I packed my things and left for my hometown Ufa. I have now published two books that have become bestsellers. The best decision of my life is to trust the small voice of my heart and follow it. And you?
10. I am ready to give up in favor of my dream…
If you want to achieve something, you will have to sacrifice something. They say that discipline is the ability to do what you don’t really want in order to get what you really want. So what are you willing to sacrifice?
- Drobot Dean / Adobe Stock
11. What are my free sources of inspiration?
In our material world, it is believed that the higher the price for something, the cooler it is. But the most emotional things are still free: a walk in the fresh air, solitude in the mountains, hugs with loved ones, laughter and smiles, good books (not free, but not very expensive).
12. Imagine there is a self-assessment meter. What actions increase the level of self-esteem?
Strange but true: very often our self-esteem depends on specific actions. When we do what we love; when we challenge ourselves; when we take care of ourselves, all this raises our level of self-love. What do you need to do to feel good?
- Sondem / Adobe Stock
13. Which people fill me up and which ones empty me?
It must be admitted that there are no good or bad people. There are those, being close to which makes us stronger and fills us. And there are those with whom we are destroyed. Who from your environment belongs to the first category, and who to the second?
14. Who do I envy?
Try writing a list of people you envy. Envy is an interesting feeling that most often shows a subconscious desire to have the same thing as the object of envy. Envy must be transformed into a constructive emotion in order to understand what we want.
15. What annoys me about other people?
What we see in other people is ours. What other people see in us is theirs. So the easiest list to figure out your weaknesses is to understand what annoys you in other people ( read also : 7 annoying husband flaws that only a wise wife will fix).
16. Which of your loved ones would you like to see by your bed when you die?
I was once struck by a question from renowned business thinker Yitzhak Adizes, who was watching his mother die in a hospital bed. He asked himself: “And who would I like to see at my bedside on my deathbed? Why not get rid of those people that I don't want to see by my bed, dying, right now? Just think about it.
- iStock / Gettyimages.ru
17. When do I feel the urge to appear rather than to be real?
Sometimes we show off in front of others, and sometimes we really live. Remember how a startup appeared in Moscow before March 8, where smart guys brought hundreds of roses and packages of fashion brands with which you could take a photo for some money? And then frames like “Beloved gave 101 roses began to appear on social networks. I love him." And there is no favorite. That's for sure the guys made good money on people's desire to appear, and not to be. Answer honestly the question: do I have such moments?
18. What will I regret most in my old age?
Regrets are ranked every year in the world. Older people are asked: “What do you regret the most?” All over the world, these ratings are almost always the same. Most of all, people regret that all their lives they worked at an unloved job, lived with unloved people, traveled little and did not take care of their health. What will you regret in old age?
19. Describe your life until today in 6-9 words.
As part of my writing course, I always ask participants to do an Ernest Hemingway story thing. He bet that he would write a six-word story that would make people cry. The story went like this: “Children's shoes are for sale. Unworn." Here are some witty and sad things my students wrote: “Have I really found myself? Writing. I'm only 37", "She believed she could. Therefore, I could”, “I am 33. Sell 2 boards and nails.” What does your life look like in 6-9 words until today?
20. What does it mean to me to be happy?
And answer this question yourself. No hints.
Evgenia Sidorova, Olga Astafieva
- how to become happy
6 questions that will help you understand yourself. Better than a session with a psychologist
There is scientific evidence that people who are aware of themselves are more successful and happier than others. They make smarter decisions, more often achieve high results in school and at work, show more creative abilities, better build relationships with others, and raise their children more correctly.
With all this, the lack of self-awareness often leads to completely catastrophic consequences. Here are just a few of them: an unloved job, a failed marriage, a ruined career, a lack of close friends, a loss of meaning in life.
Fortunately, each of us can learn to be deeply aware of ourselves. The author of the book Insight, psychologist Tasha Eirich recommends answering a series of questions first.
What are your values?
Think about what is really important to you in life, what principles you would never give up. Your values determine the kind of person you want to be. They are the ones you should be guided by in all your actions. This guideline will always help you make the right decision, make difficult choices, stay on the right track and maintain inner harmony.
Check your inner compass frequently, source
The following questions will help you understand your values:
1. What values were you instilled in as a child? Do you accept them today, or do they (some of them) contradict your current beliefs?
2. What experiences and events from childhood and adolescence do you consider the most important? How did they influence your outlook?
3. Are there people you look up to in your professional and personal life? Why do you think they deserve respect?
4. For whom do you have no respect? Why?
5. Which of your bosses would you call the best leader in your life, and which one the worst? Justify your answer.
6. What qualities would you like to see in your children the most, and which the least?
To achieve a higher level of self-awareness, make a list of values (in a notebook or on a separate sheet that you can hang on your refrigerator) and periodically check to what extent your actions reflect these principles. For example, Benjamin Franklin assessed his actions daily using the following list of virtues:
Temperance, silence, love of order, determination, frugality, hard work, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, calmness, chastity, modesty.
Below is a comprehensive list of values from which you can choose the most important for you personally.
What are your hobbies?
What are you willing to do for at least fifty years in a row? What activities inspire you and bring you joy? Only by trusting your inclinations, you can find a job you like and enjoy life every day.
Do what you love - source
Here are some more questions to help you analyze your hobbies:
1. What is your ideal day? What would make you jump out of bed in the morning?
2. What do you never get tired of doing?
3. What activity makes you feel uncomfortable?
4. If you retired tomorrow, would you miss your job?
5. What are your favorite activities? What exactly attracts you to them?
If you have many hobbies, write down on separate cards what you enjoy doing. Shift them, think and look for patterns until you feel that you have found your way. Consider turning your hobbies into a profession.
What are you striving for?
Focus not on specific small goals (get a promotion, buy an apartment, learn to drive a car), but on what you generally want to experience and do in your life (to know the world deeper, inspire as many people as possible, express yourself through creativity, etc.) Further).
Steve Jobs once said, "I want to leave my mark on the universe. " What are you dreaming about? Source
Remember: the process is much more important than the result. Having achieved something from the list of goals, you may be disappointed, and broad aspirations will energize you every day. Identify them by answering the questions below:
1. What did you dream of becoming as a child? What attracted you to this activity?
2. Do you find satisfaction in what you are doing now? Does this make sense? Do you have the feeling that you are missing something?
3. Reread the lists of your values and hobbies, but imagine that they were compiled by an outsider. What do you think he would like to experience or do during his life?
4. If you were told that you would be gone in a year, what would you do for the next 12 months?
5. What would you like to leave behind?
What is your ideal environment?
Imagine an introvert who has to deal with a huge number of people every day. Or a sociable person who is forced to work on projects alone for a long time. A homebody who travels on numerous business trips. And the one who cannot live without traveling, but is trying to come to terms with the gray office routine. A creative person whose ideas are constantly rejected by the boss. And a good performer who is required to be creative.
All of these people are unable to reach their full potential just because they find themselves in an unfavorable environment.
Finding something you enjoy is not everything, because any business can turn into a nightmare if you work in unsuitable conditions. The environment should not interfere, but help you. Therefore, it is necessary to create an atmosphere in which you will feel as productive and happy as possible.
By finding the right conditions for ourselves, we achieve more with less effort - source
If you understand what your ideal environment is, it will be easier for you to make important decisions: what city to live in, where to look for work, what offers to immediately refuse, what kind of people to surround yourself with. Answer the following questions to understand which conditions are right for you:
1. Under what conditions have you been most effective in the past?
2. What learning approach or environment helped (help) you learn the material better?
3. Have you had to quit because of unsuitable working conditions? What exactly didn't suit you?
4. What is your ideal work environment?
5. What relationships and social situations do you enjoy?
Whatever it is about (home, work, study), the main criterion in assessing the conditions is the level of your energy. If you feel cheerful and happy - everything is in order. If by the end of the day you feel weak and hold on to the last strength, it's time to think about a change of scenery.
What are your reactions?
Try to identify your patterns - the thoughts, feelings and actions that you have in different situations. The way you are used to reacting to the world around you can tell a lot about your personality. But more importantly, you are able to track down negative behavior patterns in yourself and correct them.
If you yell at your co-workers every day, then you have a pattern of irritability. If you constantly abandon complex projects halfway through, you probably tend to give in to difficulties. If you are never happy with the results of your work, you may be spoiling your life with a perfectionist habit of criticizing yourself. By identifying these issues, you will understand what you need to work on to improve.
Self-awareness is a prerequisite for self-improvement, source
Tracking your reactions, you can find not only shortcomings, but also advantages that you were not even aware of before. For example, it suddenly turns out that in extreme conditions you show remarkable leadership qualities. Of course, knowing your strengths is also very useful.
As you have already understood, here it is necessary not so much to think, but simply to observe oneself. But first, answer the following questions, they will push you in the right direction.
Looking for virtues:
1. What has always been given to you without much effort and preliminary preparation?
2. What do you think you do faster and better than others?
3. What kind of work energizes you and increases your productivity?
4. What job makes you proud?
5. Which of your achievements was the most unexpected for you?
Looking for faults:
1. Think of the biggest failures in your life. What unites them?
2. What disappointed you the most about yourself?
3. What kind of criticism do you usually hear from people around you?
4. What activities do you fear the most?
5. What traits of your character do people often joke about?
How does your behavior affect other people?
Everything we have talked about so far requires concentration on oneself. However, it is equally important to understand how other people perceive us. Often we push away friends, relatives, acquaintances with our behavior, without even realizing it.
Some may think you are cold or too hot-tempered, but you will never know the truth unless you try to analyze the reactions of others.
To build deep and lasting relationships with people, learn to look at the situation from someone else's point of view, source your partner in indifference, stop and try to imagine how they feel and think. Is the guilt of these people so great as to punish them with an angry tirade? What emotions will they experience if you can't control it? How would an outside observer see this situation?
This shift in focus will help you avoid many mistakes and change your behavior for the better. As a first step, answer a few questions:
1. Who are the most important people in your personal and professional life (colleagues, bosses, clients, friends, children, spouses, and so on).
2. How do you want to look in the eyes of these people?
3. Think about how you interacted with all these people last week. Has your behavior always affected them the way you wanted?
4. What exactly was the reaction of your acquaintances? Try to remember phrases, intonation, facial expressions, gestures. Is this what you were expecting? If not, how could you adjust your actions to improve rapport?
5. What behavioral habits can you start working on tomorrow to influence those around you in the desired way?
There are two types of self-awareness: internal and external. The first is related to understanding yourself, your values, aspirations, suitable conditions and reactions. If you start making choices that are consistent with your true self, then you will feel much happier - both at work and in your personal life.
The second type of self-awareness implies that you see yourself from the outside, that is, you understand how others perceive you. With this skill, you will be able to build stronger and healthier relationships with other people.