Counselors and psychologists tell us the eight therapy questions their patients want to know.
Question 1: 'Can You Relate?'
"Did you ever have an eating disorder? Have you ever been depressed? Is your mother still alive?" Jean Carter, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in private practice in Washington, D.C., says that the thing clients ask most often is whether she’s been through what they’re going through. They want to know whether she can understand their struggles with food, depression or grief -- not just professionally, but also viscerally.
Question 2: 'Where Did You Grow Up?'
"Funny accent. Where are you from?"Simon Rego, Psy.D., director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, has gotten this question, or variations of it, quite a few times. (If you’re wondering… he's from Canada, although, he says, "I think I’ve done a good job getting rid of my Canadian accent.")
Question 3: 'Were You In My Neighborhood?'
"Were you getting groceries at Ralph's last night with your sweaty gym clothes on?"Counseling psychologist Linda Young, Ph.D., was working at a university in southern California when a patient asked her this (and yep, Young was that sweaty shopper). Most of the time clients prefer to ignore the fact that their licensed professional has a life outside the office, but therapist and patients spotting one another is unavoidable, especially in smaller communities. Young says that when it happens, the therapist will take a cue from the client -- offering a vague hello, ignoring the person or, if the client seems particularly distressed, making a quick getaway.
Question 4: 'What's Your Relationship Status?'
"So, are you married?"
Almost all of the dozen therapists we talked to said clients had asked them this -- surprisingly, not as a come-on. Counselors say it's mostly because patients are curious about the person listening to all their stuff.
Question 5: 'Who Are You, Really?'
"Who did you vote for?"
Clients don’t stop at marital status: Counselors we talked to had patients ask about politics, religion, kids, pets and hobbies.
Question 6: 'How Fast Can You Fix Me?'
"If I do what you say, will I be dating someone two weeks from now?"
Therapy isn’t a guarantee -- even for the most conscientious, self-reflective, motivated person, Allison Lloyds, a psychotherapist in Manhattan, found herself reminding a client who asked this particular question.
Question 7: 'Have You Been In My Situation?'
"Have you ever been in love with two people at the same time?"
This, too, smacks of a "Do you really know what I'm going through?" question. So when a reader asked it of Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill, a marriage and family therapist in New York, she knew he wasn't inquiring about her relationship status. Instead, she says, "it told me a lot about what he was dealing with."
Question 8: 'How Does This Work?'
"Can you tell me exactly what we’ll be doing for the next 10 sessions?"
People often want to know what they’re signing up for, says Lloyds, who gets variations of this question frequently. Some therapists, particularly those who focus on cognitive behavioral therapy, often map out a course of treatment, with the skills a person will learn in each session. But often the client will give the counselor a general idea of what issues they want (or need to) address -- and the details will shift depending on what comes up in the sessions and how hard the client works between them.