- Mental health awareness in India is on a gradual rise, yet studies show that only 7 percent of all Indian citizens who need therapy actually go to more than two sessions. Accepting that we need therapy is difficult, and our cultural and social norms often hold us back. “From childhood, we are taught not to express our emotions,” says Dr Seema Hingorrany, a psychologist and EMDR therapist based in Mumbai. “Adults in our family shut us down or show us anger when we try to talk about our feelings, and this worsens as we grow and responsibility is thrust upon us.” While access, availability and expenses play a role in the concerningly low statistics, a good therapist who makes you want to open up and put the time and work into learning and accepting your own self is equally vital.
Finding a therapist whom you ‘click’ with can be anxiety-inducing. Therapy is a gradual process, and meaningful change does not happen overnight. This is why understanding the dynamics of how therapy would work with a particular therapist is necessary from the get-go. It is also important to understand that you might not mesh with every therapist that you go to, and settling for someone who is not the right fit for you could be detrimental.
Here is a quick guide to questions you can ask a potential therapist to understand if they offer what you need.
- What kind of therapy do you offer?
Most therapists offer the traditional approach to talk therapy, but there are also other options such as art therapy, music therapy, meditation and more. Even talk therapy has different approaches, such as behavioural therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, humanistic therapy, and holistic therapy. Talk to your therapist to understand how they vary and which will be the most suitable for you.
- What licenses and certifications do you have?
It might be uncomfortable to talk to your therapist about their credentials, but this information will help you to place your trust in them. It will also verify that the therapist has the right skills to carry out your treatment.
- Have you treated other people with similar problems to mine?
While your reasons for going to therapy are personal and unique, it might be reassuring to know that your therapist has had prior experiences dealing with similar problems before. There are also therapists who specialise in handling specific issues, such as relationship issues, parenting issues, anger management, etc. and finding one who has expertise in your area of concern will be the most useful for you.
- How do you think we should address my problem?
What you address in therapy will largely depend on your unique situation and goals. Knowing how your therapist will approach your problems will not only give you the bigger picture, but also set definite hurdles that you can cross in due time.
- What is a typical session like?
The sessions may range from structured to flexible. Some therapists may give you homework to complete after a session or ask you to maintain a journal. Other therapists might incorporate art, music or meditation into their sessions. Understanding what a session will look like will help you decide if a particular therapist is right for you.
- How often do I need to come?
The amount of time you would need to commit to getting therapy will vary from person to person. Getting a basic idea of how often you need to visit your therapist will help you organise your activities, and also mentally prepare you for the long haul.
- When can I see improvement?
This is a common question for people who first start therapy, and it is best to ask your therapist. Knowing when to expect change will make you less impatient, and help you get through the more difficult parts of therapy.
- Is it okay to contact you between sessions?
Therapists have their own rules and regulations regarding contact outside of appointments, so as to maintain professional boundaries. For example, Dr Hingorrany’s policy states that a client must not call at night, and should only contact her in case of emergencies with prior permission. Make sure you ask about and respect your therapist’s boundaries.
- Can we incorporate my religion into sessions?
Your therapist may not have the same religious beliefs as you. Although a therapist ideally should not impose their differing views on you, it is important to ask if they can be objective about any religious discussions.
- Are you LGBTQ+ affirmative?
Queerphobic and homophobic practices in psychology are sadly still rampant in India. If you belong to the LGBTQ+ community and want your identity to be a part of your therapy, make sure that your therapist is supportive beforehand.
- What will we do if I feel like something is not working for me?
“A good therapist should work with you to make your sessions a positive experience,” says Dr Hingorrany. Since therapy is a dialogue, and no two people will have the exact same issues or responses, it is necessary that you know when and how to communicate to your therapist if their methods are not working.