What Are the Five Questions You Must Ask Your Therapist?

Therapy creates a situation in which someone by definition in distress or wanting to change meets a professional who says they have the knowledge and skills to help the other, and thus charges money for a service, which is extremely hard to define. The power differential is built in and the potential for abuse is great.

Therapy creates a situation in which someone by definition in distress or wanting to change meets a professional who says they have the knowledge and skills to help the other, and thus charges money for a service, which is extremely hard to define. The power differential is built in and the potential for abuse is great.

The five questions you must ask your therapist site [Editor’s note: as of nearly seven years after this article was published, the referenced site is no longer available] is a wonderful resource for those who have been damaged by their experiences in therapy, or for those who are concerned about damage to clients, providing both a space for such voices and some sound analysis of the process of abuse. While it is easy enough to find out what to expect from good therapy, what bad therapy looks like is not so obvious, and we cannot just assume that it is ineffective — it may well have an effect which is seriously detrimental. A suggested question I found on the site is “How long do you feel I will need to see you?”

This is a pretty basic question in any other context in which we are paying for a service, and while the actual number of sessions is impossible to predict unless the therapist is working in a specifically short term mode, they should be comfortable with giving a concrete answer — a general framework, based on their experience. Although in the psychoanalytic tradition an analysis lasting for years is common, counselling usually lasts considerably less time, and a therapist who has a cluster of clients coming to him/her for 10 years plus sets my warning antenna up immediately.

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Personally I have found that the piece on my website which mentions explicitly that the whole ethos of counselling is not to create dependency, and that the length of therapy is decided by the client’s own perception of their readiness to stop, attracts more positive comments from new clients than any other information I give about my practice. Starting with a few sessions, say six, and then reviewing the process and then making (or not) a new contract together seems to me to be a sensible procedure. But of course no procedure is enough to ensure that the practitioner is not abusive. Legislation is not adequate either: it can be complied with from a variety of motivations!

All we can go on at the end of the day is our first impression, whether we can feel in our gut that this person is doing all they can to even out the power differential between us, rather than impress us in any way, with their theories, methods, or personal charisma. On which, more later…

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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