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12 Questions to Ask a Counselor, Therapist, or Mentor You’re Considering Seeing

I have carried out counseling as a psychologist in Tucson AZ for over 20 years.  I want to help you know how to sift through the jungle of creatures in the mental health field.   

In this post I am going to skip more basic kinds of questions and immediately dig into the best questions to ask to find a professional who is in the “Sweet Spot” of what you are looking for.  You can assume these one questions should come after you give a thumbnail description of the situation you or your child is in.

1 – Could you please email me a copy of your updated resume?

is a very quick way to assess all of the professional achievements that person
has obtained.  This can also help you
hone further questions you want to ask the practitioner.  Pay particular attention to what their
original training was in.  For example,
if you are looking for a child therapist and you only see someone who’s been
trained to work with adults, you need to really take a closer look at their

2 – How much scientific training have you gone through to get your degree?

While the degrees on a wall should not impress you, you should pay attention to the comprehensiveness of the training program of each practitioner you are considering.  Do not be afraid to ask the practitioner for the names of each of their training programs, and then you can look that up.  Even within the field of Psychology, there can be great variance in terms of how much research training a practitioner needs to get, even at the “doctor” (i.e. PhD or PsyD level). 

you think you are looking for a “counselor”, “therapist”, “life coach”, etc.
etc., the bottom line is you want to
know what kind of behavioral science training this professional has
.  Terms like “counselor” or “therapist” are not
often legally protected, such as in the state of Arizona; anyone can call
themselves a “counselor” or “therapist”.  
Your job is to focus on the practitioner’s functional capabilities, NOT
on what they call themselves.   

Warning:  Some people tend to over focus on seeing if
they get a “warm and fuzzy” feeling from a practitioner right out of the
gate.  These people may be unknowingly
too easily influenced by personal charisma. 
Charisma is not going to help you heal. 
Competence is.  So, your focus
needs to be on finding someone who is technically competent but also empathetic.

3 – Walk me through how you handled one of your most complex cases occurring within the past 6 months, which is similar to my situation.  Clarify what you thought you could have done better.

to the answer and pay attention to how thorough the initial intake was, how
research-based the treatment techniques were, and how methodical and yet
compassionate the professional sounded. The best doctors are humble and
constantly and critically use each case to figure out what they will do better
next time. 

4 – What are your greatest skill gaps and/or weaknesses as a professional?

more silence you hear the more cautious you should be.  No one is perfect and you should use a
professional who can easily and comfortably talk about where their growth
challenges are.  We all have them! 

5 – What research and/or evidence-based methodology do you use to assess for to capture the patient’s/client’s strengths/talents/?

Positive Psychology movement is still early on, and there is not necessarily
one measure a practitioner should use to assess for personality strengths, but
listen for what the practitioner says to determine if they seem like they will
thoroughly assess for your inventory of strengths.  Listen for whether they simply talk about a
book they read or seminar they have been to, versus referring to published behavioral science research.   

6 – How do you balance the need for being analytical (and more objective) with the need to be supportive and empathic (more personal)?  Can you answer this within the context of a recent case. 

Get a sense of how well the practitioner balances these two things, as they talk about the case.  Research on effectiveness of therapist clearly indicates that personality match-up is important, but technical aptitude and the choice of the correct treatments is just as important, if not more.    

7 – How do you decide which techniques/treatments you will use?

List of Empirically Supported Treatments

matter what the practitioner calls themselves, they should easily reference treatments discussed on this constantly
updated website.
On this website you can browse the complete evidence-based
treatment list, or browse by diagnosis or symptoms and case studies.   Even psychiatrists who do therapy should be
referencing evidence-based techniques.

8 – How much research is behind the assessment or treatment methods you use?

The professional should easily be able to discuss relevant and contemporary research.  You should certainly feel free to use Google Scholar and type in the name of any conditions you know are in play, and find the best review article summarizing the research findings on what the best treatment techniques are. Example search string: “depression review evidence-based treatments”  

9 – How consistently do you measure progress, what metrics do you use to measure the progress, and how do you decide what “vital signs” to measure to determine overall wellness?

Example: See our Vital
Sign assessment form
we ask every patient/client to complete before
each appointment

If we are seeing a child, we will have the child do this form as well as the
parents separately.

10 – Do you have a sample of an evaluation report you could send to me?

Too many practitioners
act like they need to keep their evaluation reports in a secret underground

Too many therapists have thin skins. 
When I vet practitioners for clients who may be moving to other areas, I
often ask for samples of evaluation reports. 
The better the professional is the more likely it is they are willing to
send a sanitized HIPAA compliant report that does not identify the client or
patient.  I definitely release sample reports all the time to potential
clients.  Reports are a critical way for
you to get inside the mind of the practitioner and see how they think about
complex cases.  Make sure to ask for an
evaluation of a more complex case that can help you see what they really can

11 – Walk me through the process you use in order to identify the problems, and how you will treat the problems using your assessment of the client or patients personality configuration

science is indicating that the most
effective behavioral science treatment is customized to the unique combination
of states and traits of the person that will be treated
.  You need someone who is an expert in
assessing personality.  There is a
voluminous amount of data regarding personality assessment and it is not found
in magazines in about five questions you can answer to determine your

12 – Can you put me in contact with any parents/past clients you have worked with?

It is not
uncommon for more effective professionals to have a list of people who have
said they are willing to talk to potential clients, in a confidential
manner.  As professionals have to become
more and more transparent, the best professionals are becoming much more open
about allowing future clients to have contact with past clients, especially in
the non-healthcare performance-based realm, such as an elite athlete
considering using a sports psychologist. 

Using an Expert to Find an Expert

— Remember, you can hire a Psychological Expert
to interview practitioners for you, especially if you are moving to another
place, or you are in a place that is rural or in a foreign country where you
will need to use someone who is located away from where you are.  For example, I am commonly asked to vet other
psychologists when clients move away or need a different kind of service than I
provide.  In other words, you can hire a Consulting Expert to find
the Treating Expert you need.  

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Meet Doctor Brunner

Dr. Thomas (Tom) Brunner is a Tucson based psychologist and published expert who has a 20 year track record of clinical excellence, scientific research, teaching, publications, awards and podcast interviews.  He is the senior author of a psychological measure adapted into 14 languages worldwide, and has written over 250 blogs, many of them have gone viral.  He is revolutionizing the field of career guidance with his fresh and trademarked approach that is spreading like wildfire. Sign up here to be notified of soon to be published book, Find Your Real Me: Career Guidance Making You Truly Free.