Therapy Lingo: What Is an “Initial Mental Health Consultation?”

Therapy Lingo: "What Is an Initial Mental Health Consultation?"

What Is Involved in an Initial Mental Health Consultation?

If you’re looking for a therapist, you may have noticed phrases like “initial consultation” or “initial mental health consultation.” Are you about to attend your first mental health consultation, or curious about what an initial consultation entails? We figured. Read on to learn all about it. 

Your first conversation with a new mental health provider is exciting. You are taking significant steps to manage your mental health and conquer your goals. A mental health consultation is a perfect time to assess whether or not someone is a right-fit therapist for you. Consider this initial consultation an opportunity to “try them out” – see if you “click” with them, share your goals, and pay attention to how they talk about what you share.

Is this someone you want as an ally on your personal journey? Do they share insights that resonate with your values? Does their approach to therapy work with what you want to get out of the experience? The initial consultation will help you think through these questions. 

What to Expect from an Initial Consultation

Your first conversation with a new mental health provider is exciting. You are taking significant steps to manage your mental health and conquer your goals. A mental health consultation is a perfect time to assess whether or not someone is a right-fit therapist for you. Consider this initial consultation an opportunity to “try them out” – see if you “click” with them, share your goals, and pay attention to how they talk about what you share.

Initial consultations often take place over the phone or video chat and typically run anywhere from 10-30 minutes, depending on the provider. During this time, you’ll get to know the therapist and their practice. They’ll most likely have some questions for you about what you’re looking for, what your concerns are, and what your schedule looks like. They’re trying to assess whether or not they are well-suited to helping you with your concerns. But this is also an opportunity for you to find out what you want to know.

Is this someone you want as an ally on your personal journey? Do they share insights that resonate with your values? Does their approach to therapy work with what you want to get out of the experience? The initial consultation will help you think through these questions. Choosing the right therapist is an important aspect of getting what you need, and it’s worth the effort to prepare a bit before your initial consultation. 

How to Prepare for an Initial Mental Health Consultation

Write Down Your Concerns

The first thing you can do to prepare for your mental health consultation is to write down your concerns. Your list might include symptoms you’re experiencing, difficulties you’re facing, or issues you’d like to explore. Having this list in front of you during an initial consultation will help you ensure you mention everything that you want to bring up with the therapist. Trying to come up with or recall all that information on the spot can be difficult. 

Prepare to Ask Questions

Asking questions is a great tool to help you decide if a therapist is a good fit during your initial mental health consultation. While the therapist will certainly have questions to ask you, too, having some prepared to ask them will help you learn the information that is important to you. 

7 Questions to Ask Your Therapist

#1 What is your specialty?

Most therapists have multiple specialties (or types of therapy and client concerns they specialize in). This does not necessarily mean their specialties cover your specific needs. For example, if someone battling addiction is seeking the help of a mental health professional, the provider needs to have experience in that area in order to be effective.

#2 How long have you been practicing? Tell me about your experience. 

Listening to a therapist talk about their experience will help you understand what they’ve seen and what they can help with. It’s important to note that many therapists have a variety of experiences that are relevant to their practice, both professionally and personally. 

#3 How much will I pay? 

While more and more therapists are accepting insurance, many don’t – and almost all will accept private-pay clients. One perk of private-pay options is that your therapist doesn’t have to submit a mental health diagnosis to an insurance company. Make sure to ask them about their fees, sliding-scale opportunities, and any pre-paid, discounted, multi-session packages they may offer so you can make the arrangements you need to cover the cost of therapy

#4 How often will we meet?

The therapist might have an idea in mind for the frequency of your therapy sessions. This may differ depending on your needs, and will likely be subject to change based on your progress. 

#5 What will my treatment plan look like?

Is there a concrete treatment plan that they want you to follow? This is important for helping you stay engaged and setting expectations for your work together. If you’re interested in a specific type of therapy this provider offers, like EMDR or Brainspotting, now is a great time to bring it up. 

#6 Do you assign homework? 

Many therapists will give their clients “homework,” or things to work on in-between visits. Therapy homework may include techniques to try, exercises to practice, and coping strategies to use.

#7 I want to work with you. What happens next? 

If you’ve made up your mind and decided to go with this therapist after your initial mental health consultation, you should ask what the next steps are going to include. These next steps may include “homework,” coordinating with your insurance, scheduling your first therapy session, and more.

The Value of an Initial Consultation

If you decide to work with a therapist after an initial consultation, that’s great, but even if you decide they’re not the best fit for you, your time was not spent in vain. It’s very helpful to find this out before you settle on a therapist, and if you have concerns that are outside this particular therapist’s scope of practice, they may have recommendations for you of therapists who do work with folks that have your sort of concerns. 

Many therapists offer this initial mental health consultation for free. To find someone in your area who offers this, click here to search by zip code or city and then filter your results by Pricing>Free Initial Consultation. 

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