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Here Are 10 Questions To Ask Before Choosing A Therapist

Before a therapists asks you some questions, ask these first.

Wellness

Earlier this spring, I remember reading an article where Oprah said that she had never been to therapy before; that in her mind, her best friend, Gayle King was her "regulator". When you think about all that Oprah has shared regarding childhood trauma, weight battles and pressures with her platform and then you add to that the fact that she gives out so much advice for a living, that seemed rather ironic to me.


It also reminded me of why I oftentimes say to my own clients that there is a difference between something being therapeutic and actually going to therapy. To me, at least once in life, everyone should see a therapist (or counselor or life coach). It's simply a good idea to have a professional help you to look at things from an "outside looking in", totally objective perspective, whether it's for the purpose of healing, revelation, goal-setting — or all of the above.

If you're someone who has either never been to a therapist before yet you've been strongly considering doing so as of late or you've tried it, got burned, and are leery about attempting going again (even though a part of you feels like you should), as a marriage life coach myself, I wanted to share 10 questions that you should personally run through. Ones that can help you feel a lot more confident about sitting on a therapist's couch — for a season.

1. What Specifically Do You Want a Therapist For?

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When it comes to this first point, let me say that it would be a bit unfair for anyone who is a therapist to automatically expect you to know what kind of help that you need. After all, getting to the root of that is actually a part of a therapist's job. At the same time, it is a good idea to have some sort of ballpark idea of what you're looking for and the desired outcome you'd like to have. Like me? I work specifically with people who want to keep their marriage together, get it to thrive or those who desire marriage. Sometimes, I'll work with singles who are trying to get some areas of their life together; however, based on how complex and serious those issues are, I'll refer them out.

So, how do you start with your search when it comes to targeting exactly what you want or need? Well, do you want personal or professional assistance? Does it have to do with relationships in any way? Perhaps you've got some patterns/habits that you'd like to break. Are there things about how you live your life that you sense may be rooted in childhood trauma? Maybe you feel stagnant and you need someone to help you to get "unstuck" and set some goals. Ask some questions until you are able to "scratch an itch" so to speak. By the way, if there is something (or one) that is internally nagging you that won't seem to go away, that is a good indication that it should be brought up in therapy.

2. Will a Life Coach Do?

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I once heard someone say that the main difference between a therapist and a life coach is a therapist focuses on one's mental health while a life coach is about helping someone reach their goals. I can definitely see there being a lot of truth to that; however, oftentimes a therapist is also considered to be a licensed psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor while a life coach? Some have "letters behind their name" while others do not. It kind of all depends on how much education you'd prefer the person you are working with to have. For instance, a lot of church folks go to see their pastor for counsel yet many of them aren't licensed therapists (or even licensed life coaches); they would be more like a life coach. I've been very open that I am a life coach as well. My work comes from years of experience while a friend of mine, who is also a coach, recently got certified.

Personally, when I'm dealing with a person or couple who I feel have some really deep-rooted issues, oftentimes I will recommend that they go to a therapist in addition to seeing me. However, if you're basically looking for assistance in identifying core issues and mapping out a plan on how to move forward, many times a coach (in an area of expertise that you're looking for because there are many different kinds) will fit the bill.

3. Is Their Ethnicity and Gender Relevant?

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Not too long ago, a friend of mine asked me to refer them to a life coach. When I asked them what area they wanted to focus on, they said that they needed to get professionally organized and also create some long-term goals. Because this individual is pretty "fist in the air" (I'm sure you get what I mean by that — LOL), I assumed that they wanted someone Black. To my surprise, no. "I would actually prefer someone who sees life from a different lens because a lot of my clients aren't Black." Noted.

Some of you who are die-hard Insecure fans can recall the journey that Molly went on to find the right therapist for her. And yes, sometimes, being with someone who shares your ethnicity and/or gender can be a real comfort because you tend to feel like they get exactly where you are coming from. Anyway, whether that is the case for you or not, definitely factor this in while making your selection. It can make finding your right fit so much easier for you.

4. Do They Share or Respect Your Value/Belief System?

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As a marriage life coach, I've worked with a few atheist couples in my time (actually, atheists tend to say married a lot longer than many Christians do…that's another article for another time, though). Because I strive to be a Bible follower, I've been asked if that was difficult to do. Eh, a little challenging only because I am someone who believes that marriage is a faith-based union; however, not impossible because I also believe that you can have morals and not be of the same faith system as I am. Still, since I tend to bring up God and Scripture quite a bit, I do make sure that prospective clients know that I think marriage is a covenant relationship and that I use the Bible in a lot of my counsel — at least a lot of the time. At the same time, there is actually a verse in the Word that talks about speaking in parables (applicable stories), so that folks who wouldn't understand Scripture can understand where you are coming from (Matthew 13:13). Taking that in has made it easier to communicate with folks from all walks of life.

Anyway, the bottom line here is you don't want to see someone who could end up doing a lot of debating with you or you're going to feel patronized around because you both have a different set of values or belief systems. If you're Jewish and want a Jewish therapist or agnostic and would prefer someone who won't bring up faith at all in your sessions, that makes total sense; it's pretty wise to look for that. You're already gonna have a lot to unpack. No need to start, right out of the gate, not seeing eye to eye about core foundational issues.

5. Have You Ever Seen a Therapist Before?

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When I say that there is someone in my life who needs to go to therapy, stat — there can't be a bigger understatement when it comes to this topic. While the core of him is good, he makes some of the most redundantly toxic choices that I have ever seen in my entire life. The real catcher is he's so cryptic when it comes to how he moves that a lot of people come to him for insight. It's a mess. The few times when he has at least allowed me to broach the topic of counseling, he once shared that when he took a chance and tried, the therapist actually did something that was extremely unethical; they started developing feelings for him. And so, as of now, that has caused him to stay as far away from therapy as possible.

If you're hesitant about going to a therapist because you've never been before and you're not sure what to expect, that is totally understandable. Just try and keep an open mind. No one can make you do anything you want to do — including staying with someone you don't like or continuing in something that doesn't seem like a wise fit. On the other hand, if you're damning therapy because of a bad past experience, what I will say is, just like there are some good and bad people in general, there are also some good and not-so-good therapists. To swear off all of them because of one unfortunate situation would be a shame. Besides, how can one meeting — possibly a couple of times — with someone new hurt? You're still in control. No matter what. Always remember that.

6. How Do They Act in the First Meeting?

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I'm gonna be straight up with you. Seeing a prospective therapist/counselor/life coach for the first time is a lot like a first date. And just like first dates, there are several red flags that you should look out for. Ready? Here are 10 of 'em.

  • If they're late. It means they don't respect your time.
  • If you feel like they are over-talking you. They aren't good listeners.
  • If they come off condescending or patronizing. You need to feel comfortable.
  • If they are distracted. That's just plain rude.
  • If you feel like they're giving more of a monologue than dialoguing with you. You aren't to be their audience member.
  • If you feel a hell of a lot worse rather than better. No one should feel like shame imposed by the therapist. Do keep in mind that therapy may bring about really uncomfortable moments so that you can get to the root of matters.
  • If you sense gaslighting or manipulation. A therapist shouldn't be emotionally controlling or violating you.
  • If it seems like a religion session. A faith-based therapist is one thing. Trying to recruit you is something else.
  • If you feel no sense of peace. A good fit will bring about some clarity or "ah ha" moments, even from the first meeting.
  • If you just don't "click". No explanation needed.

7. How Does Payment Go?

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This is huge. Some therapists only take insurance (and well, you already know how that goes). Some will change insurance companies and just drop you (even if you've worked with them for years). Some are willing to work out some sort of out-of-pocket payment plan. The bottom line with this point is assume nothing. I know some people who were really hurt when, after several years of seeing (and becoming really comfortable with) their therapist, they had to part ways because their therapist left their insurance network and so they couldn't afford to keep seeing them. Let me tell it, before even going to the first session, this should be addressed. It would be a shame to find someone you really like, even upon the initial meeting, only to realize that you can't afford them.

8. How Committed Do You Plan on Being to the Process?

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I believe I can speak for all people in the counseling field when I say that nothing is more taxing than working with clients where we seem far more invested in their betterment/healing than they do. I can't tell you how many couples I've worked with who don't do the assignments and/or will show up late and/or will cancel/reschedule at the last minute — over and over again. Or, they want to meet far and few between, when their problems clearly indicate that they need to be seeing someone, at least a couple of times a month. Matter of fact, I know a couple who's basically been in some sort of therapy, ever since they said, "I do". However, they are infrequent as all get out and are constantly in a pattern of expecting the therapist to save them from divorce whenever they allow things to go too far. Saving you at the last minute? Yeah, that is not our job. And it's not even fair.

Anyway, once you've met with a therapist for a few times, they should be able to give somewhat of an assessment of how often you should see them and how long it will be necessary (at that level of intensity, whatever that may be). If you know that you are not going to commit to that, you might want to wait until you can. The reality is that some people have a bad experience in therapy, not because of the therapist or the therapy itself; it's because they are mentally and emotionally all over the place and refuse to do the work that is required. And as best-seller author Iyanla Vanzant often says, "We're not gonna fight you for your healing." We shouldn't have to.

9. Has the Therapist Ever Been to Therapy?

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This. One. Right. Here. If you're someone who's always been hesitant about going to therapy because you've heard that some of the craziest people are therapists — I'm not gonna lie and act like there's not some truth to that. There are many narcissists who are therapists. There are a lot of arrogant people who are therapists. Some folks use being a therapist as a way of escapism from their own demons and drama because it makes them feel good to fix other people's stuff rather than dig deep and tackle their own. And then there are some therapists who are so delusional that they think everyone needs their insight while they can't humble themselves to hear what they need to do with their own lives.

This is why I think it is totally NOT out of bounds to ask a prospective therapist if they've ever been to therapy before. While the reasons why are not really any of your business, you can learn a lot about someone who is willing to admit that either they've had past issues that they've needed to tackle or, like Meryl Streep's character did in one of my favorite movies (Prime), they go because they hear so much of other people's stuff that they need a professional to help them to process it all and set good emotional boundaries.

One of my favorite licensed counselors, I saw in high school, college and many years into my 20s. Now I have a therapist friend that I run things by when I need them. They are an absolutely godsend. So yeah, a therapist who has a therapist isn't something to side-eye. It's actually something to smile about.

10. What’s the “Proof of Purchase”?

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Something that I apply to churches and therapists is, if after about a year, you see no signs of personal growth and progress, that's probably not the place for you. Best believe that, also like a lot of churches, unfortunately, there are some therapists out here who are perfectly fine running your credit/debit card, listening to you and not really tracking for your growth. A thorough therapist will actually talk about where things stand and how you're doing, periodically. And you should expect that because a therapist is supposed to provide you with tips and tools to be better as the result of interacting with them. You definitely shouldn't be stagnant or worse — worse.

I am passionate about people getting the health that they need, so of course, I could go on. I'm hoping that this will help to at least provide you with some peace of mind. Therapy is a blessing. Asking the right questions can lead you to the best therapist. It really can.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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