Making the Call

Yellow Flower - Palo Alto Psychologist

That first phone call to a psychologist or therapist can be pretty nerve wracking.  It takes a lot of courage to make the decision to reach out and find some support.  Many people put this off for months before finally feeling ready to make the call.  Part of the anxiety may be in not knowing what to expect or what to say, so I’m hoping to give you some information on what to expect in that first call and what you may want to ask about.

Before making a call I would encourage you to consider the following questions:

  • Do I want to work with someone with a particular kind of educational background or license?  Therapists can be psychologists, psychiatrists, marriage and family therapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, etc.  You may want to consider whether there is a reason that you would prefer to work with one kind of practitioner over another.  (For more information on different types of providers, see here)
  • Are you most comfortable talking to someone of a particular gender, culture, religion, sexual orientation, etc?
  • When in your schedule can you make time for therapy?  How much time can you make?
  • What is your budget for therapy?  If you are hoping to use insurance, what does your insurance company cover and do they accept out of network providers?

Often when you call a psychologist, you will have to leave a voicemail message if they have a private practice.  Most private practice therapists do not have any administrative help and therefore may be with another client or out of the office when you call.  Different therapists handle that first call in different ways.  Some want to mostly set up a first appointment so that you can discuss what you are coming in for in person, while others will want to have a lengthier conversation over the phone.  They want to ensure that you are a fairly good fit to work together prior to having you come in to the office.  They are likely to ask you questions about what is bringing you in at this point in time, but may also ask questions about your psychological history, medications, substance use, eating and sleeping, etc. to determine whether you are a good fit to work with them or might work better with someone who has a particular specialty.  It can be uncomfortable to share this kind of personal information with a stranger over the phone, but it is harder when you come in and start to form a relationship with someone, only to find out that another provider would be a better fit for you. 

At some point the psychologist is likely to ask you whether you have any questions for them.  Many people are uncertain what they should be asking, but here are some ideas of areas you may want to inquire about:

  • Have you worked with people before who are dealing with the types of concerns I am?  How do you typically work with clients with these kinds of concerns?
  • What type of treatments do you use and how effective are they usually with concerns like mine?  If things don’t seem to be working, what do you do?
  • Do you have areas of expertise?
  • Does your work in therapy tend to focus more on the past or present?  Do you tend to see clients for longer-term therapy or shorter?
  • What is your rate?  Do you take insurance?
  • Do you take payment at each session or do you bill later?
  • What is your schedule like?  Do our schedules match up?  Do I hold a certain time slot in your schedule, or do we schedule from week to week?
  • What kind of degree and license do you have?

As you talk with the psychologist, both about what is bringing you in and about some of the questions that you have, you will start to be able to get a sense of their personal style and your comfort level in talking to them.  Just like in dating, people have different chemistry with one another, and a therapist that is perfect for your friend may not feel quite right for you.    It is perfectly okay to say that you are not sure that the therapist is the best fit for you, or that you are speaking with others to see who will be a good match and will let them know which way you decide to go.  Only you can determine whether a particular psychologist is the right fit for you. 

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