There are many effective, caring therapists of all persuasions working hard globally to help clients move through difficult times. Many go that extra mile to make sure the trust that clients have placed in their hands is not misplaced. Clients will expect a therapist to take care of them during these times and be everything from parent, coach, motivator, shoulder to cry on and more. Therapists take on these roles gladly within the confines of therapeutic boundaries.
When considering therapy, clients usually have standard questions that they have in trying to find out if the therapist is a good fit. These might include questions around qualifications, experience, how they tackle certain conditions, methodology (this is another question to ask. Is the therapist stuck on one method or are they willing or able to integrate other methods to tailor an approach?). These valuable questions plus the experience of the first few sessions might be enough to see if the relationship is going to work.
However, one question that almost never gets asked is, in my opinion, one of the most important and it involves the therapist’s life outside of the practice. Now, we have to state here that therapists will not openly talk about their private life. There are good reasons for this. They are not there to be your friend or should you as a client, be part of their social circle or potential partner (as you can imagine, this does happen). Therapists need to keep objectivity and these boundaries are important. The majority of therapists will respect this for the good of the client, themselves and the process which they are getting paid to be a part of.
Let’s get to that question. Over the years, I have heard and read about some strange stories that come out of the therapy room. Therapists falling asleep, not following conversations, not listening effectively, forgetting what was said. It happens more than you might think. Being a therapist and working with troubled clients is a mentally challenging job. The concentration and focus needed is extraordinary. I often hear people say that they would make a good therapist because they are good listeners. This is only part of the equation, albeit an essential part but the continual challenge is to keep that up through all sessions. Clients are very sensitive to this particular point and will soon challenge if they feel full focus is not there. Therapists, similar to lawyers, bill hourly so a balance has to be found between potential income and being effective.
The one question I would ask any potential therapist is …..How do you practice self-care? What do we mean by this? It means, what do they do to maintain the level of concentration needed to work with clients effectively. When we take about self-care, we talk about basics. We talk about relaxation, exercise, diet and effective sleep patterns. Do they have any issues that might prevent them working with a particular client? Especially with such issues as codependency, it is important that a therapist understands these issues and have worked through any that they might have had themselves.
Many clients who meet their therapist for the first time will think twice about probing for this information but essential information it is if the therapeutic relationship is to succeed. You cannot assume and take for granted that a therapist is doing all they can to keep themselves in good order. If they don’t, it could have a huge bearing on the success of the process. A failure that the client may well take on themselves.
So don’t be afraid. There is no problem with asking and it is perhaps the most important question you will ever ask your therapist.