Once you have found a potential counsellor, you will need to test whether they are a good fit, or whether you need to try the next one on your list. There are lots of articles with good questions to ask a potential therapist, such as from Everyday Health, Portland Psychotherapy Clinic, and Washingtonian Magazine. Based on my many years seeing four different therapists, I have adapted the most relevant questions from those articles and added more for people with dating difficulties. (I use “therapy” and “counselling” interchangeably.)
Costs and availability
Before getting into emotionally vulnerable topics with the counsellor, you can ask some basic business questions:
How much do you charge per hour?
Do you accept my insurance?
What morning/afternoon/evening/weekend hours do you have available?
Be frank with the counsellor about how much you can afford. Some therapists offer a “sliding scale” of rates for people at different income levels. Some professions charge more than others (for example, a psychologist’s fee is higher than a social worker), so you could ask for a referral to someone else who could help you.
The issues you want to work on
Before meeting the counsellor, prepare a brief list of what you want help with, for example: “I have never dated, I have few friends, and I’m in a dead-end job”. You can use your own words or name the psychological condition you suspect, for example, “I get rejected a lot, and I feel depressed and anxious.” Use whatever words you prefer to describe your dating difficulties: a long-time single, a virgin, love-shy, involuntary celibate, etc.
After naming your issues for the counsellor, here are some general questions to ask:
How would you go about treating these issues?
How much training or experience do you have with these issues?
How does your professional license or certification help you treat me?
Ability to treat dating difficulties
Now let’s find out if this counsellor can help with your dating difficulties.
What do you know and believe about adults who have never dated?
Can you help me understand why I have difficulty with dating?
How would you help me get better at connecting with people?
Have you worked with other adults without dating experience?
Hopefully the counsellor shows an open-minded attitude. If they immediately judge or stigmatize you, dismiss your problem as easily solved, or make negative assumptions about you, they probably aren’t going to be a helpful counsellor.
If the therapist hasn’t worked with inexperienced adults, but seems willing and able to learn, you can refer them to this website and the Love Not Anger survey results describing multiple possible causes of dating difficulties.
Optimistic, realistic, honest and kind
Counsellors tend to speak positively and optimistically, offering hope and kindness to their clients. If you feel depressed, or you’ve lived with a lot of negativity, you may find a counsellor’s optimism and caring to be off-putting or unbelievable. So let’s test whether they can meet you on the realistic side of optimism:
Realistically, how much could I improve with therapy?
Can you tell me something that you’ve observed about me?
Getting kind yet honest feedback is really important. Most people need an unbiased external observer, who has relationship experience, to assess why they have difficulty with dating. If you find yourself saying “I don’t know what men/women are looking for!” then you need a counsellor who understands how human beings are attracted to each other.
An unrealistically positive counsellor may not have the patience to hear your real reasons why your problems aren’t easily solved. If the counsellor or coach seems more like a salesperson, promising you will get lots of dates after just a few sessions, if only you follow their formula for success… they are selling you some tricks that are probably available in a cheaper book or video. Consider instead a qualified psychotherapist who will listen to your unique reasons for being single.
Brief or deep?
Are you more comfortable addressing the immediate problem or the deeper issues?
Are you more comfortable focusing on the present or exploring the past for insight?
Is your approach suited to short-term or long-term therapy?
How long do you expect I will be in therapy for this problem?
I always recommend that people explore their deeper underlying issues. If you only address the surface problem, the underlying issues might show up again in a different guise.
Some people with dating difficulties have strong self-worth and social skills, and could use a brief course of therapy to work through their concerns and get some information. Other people (like me) will need more in-depth therapy to learn how to love themselves, connect emotionally to other people, manage their mental health, and tackle the complexity of their dating difficulties, to eventually establish healthy long-lasting relationships.
Even if you need a longer course of therapy, you may only be able to afford a few counselling sessions. I recommend going as much as you can afford. Get whatever benefit you can, without adding money-stress to your worries!
You may have a variety of concerns about therapy that the counsellor could answer or accommodate, for example:
I’ve never been to therapy before. What should I expect?
You’re friends with my Aunt Matilda. How will you keep my secrets?
Does your office have a cat or dog? I’m allergic.
If you have some past negative experience with therapy, it is worth mentioning that to the counsellor. If you can briefly explain that experience in the interview, the therapist may be able to talk about avoiding a repeat of the problem. The therapist may offer to spend some time in a therapy session listening to your full story of what happened, and building a more trusting relationship with you.
Reflecting and choosing
After you’ve interviewed the therapist, take time to notice how you felt during the meeting. There are some great reflection questions at the end of the Everyday Health article. If you feel at least a little more comfortable than when you arrived at their office, you could call back to make an appointment! This is a small decision because you only need to commit to one session at a time. And they might help you discover a better life.