How Do I Interview a Grief Therapist?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What are some questions to ask while interviewing grief therapists to find one I like?

Expert Answer

Martha Clark Scala has been a psychotherapist in private practice since 1992, with offices in Palo Alto and San Francisco, California. She regularly writes about grief and loss, the necessity of self-care, and substance abuse. Her e-newsletter, "Out on a Limb," is available to subscribers through her website.

When first meeting with a grief therapist that you're considering hiring, focus your questions in two areas: practical concerns, such as location and costs; and personal concerns about the practice and the therapist, such as his or her style of therapy and what to expect from it.

It can be easy to overlook either side of your search when looking for a good helper. But, depending on your personal circumstances, the questions below should help you hone in on information that may be important to you.

Questions about practical concerns:

  • Where are you located?

  • Is it close to public transportation?

  • Is parking readily available?

  • Is your office wheelchair accessible?

  • What days and hours do you offer appointments?

  • Do you have any immediate openings within my schedule or time constraints?

  • If you don't have any openings within my schedule constraints, can you recommend other qualified therapists?

  • How long does a session last?

  • What is your cancellation policy?

  • What are your fees?

  • If you set fees based on a sliding scale, how do you determine an individual client's charge?

  • Do you prefer to be paid at each session, or can I carry a balance?

  • Can I pay by the month?

  • Do you accept credit cards?

  • Are you covered by my insurance?

  • Will you bill the insurer directly, or must I?

  • How does insurance reimbursement work?

Questions about the practice and the therapist:

  • What's a typical grief-counseling session like?

  • What's your helping style or philosophy?

  • What's your specific style for counseling about grief?

  • Does your style involve giving guidance, or do you prefer not to make suggestions?

  • Are there any particular techniques that you've found helpful for clients dealing with grief?

  • Can you give me an example of a technique you might use or that you've found successful?

  • What timeframe can I hope for in terms of feeling better than I feel now?

You may not feel the need to ask all of these questions. It's also possible that the therapist you contact won't have enough time to give all of these questions a thoughtful reply. But the responses should help you assess whether he or she might be a good fit for you, both practically and philosophically.

As you listen to the answers, pay attention to subtle elements such as tone of voice or helping style. For example, if the sound or pace of a potential therapist's voice is annoying to you, this signals that the two of you aren't a good match.

Trust your intuition. If your gut just says "no," based on the sum total of your conversation, pay attention. Keep searching until the answers to your questions seem satisfactory, the more subtle elements feel like a fit -- and your gut says an enthusiastic "yes."

And finally: Be aware that these days, many professionals and service provider organizations have websites. You may be able to find the answers to some of your questions by browsing the website before you make a call.