​​9 Questions your therapist might ask and why

Beginning psychotherapy can be anxiety-provoking, and can be made more challenging if you feel unprepared or worried about the questions you might be asked. Perhaps you worry about being judged or that the issues you bring are too difficult, or that you won’t be understood. 


This article aims to:

  • offer information on why questions might be asked
  • explore why they are relevant and necessary 
  • understand how they help you and your therapist work together

9 common questions

1. What brings you here?

At first, this seems like a straightforward question, but it can be challenging to answer.

What if you are nervous about mentioning something difficult or painful? What if you don’t fully know why you’re there, perhaps someone ‘told you to go to therapy’ but you don’t understand why.

This question offers an important opportunity for you to reflect honestly on what brought you to psychotherapy, so you and your therapist have a fuller understanding of your issues. Ultimately, this enables you to get the most out of therapy.

2. How do you feel?

You will likely have a wide range of feelings when you begin psychotherapy, some of these may be conflictual, difficult or upsetting. You might believe some feelings ought to be prioritised over others and some might make you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.

You may feel stuck, and not immediately know how to put your feelings into words. Perhaps you feel differently now and worry you are wasting your money or your therapist's time. Perhaps you feel in less need of support than before, or you may feel things have gotten worse.

Your therapist asks you how you feel not because they have in mind a ‘right feeling’ or a ‘wrong one’ but in order to understand how your experiences have impacted you and how they can be understood. 

3. How do you understand the difficulties you are experiencing?

This question aims to establish how you may or may not understand, interpret or feel about the difficulties or challenges in your life. This question makes space for you to explore your perception of yourself, and why or how things might be happening in your life.

For example, you may have had relationships which lasted a set time before ending and you may understand this as being linked to a possible fear of commitment, intimacy or closeness. 

4. What do you hope to gain from psychotherapy?

People begin therapy with a wide range of hopes, expectations or ideas. Perhaps you wish to change repetitive patterns in your life, develop more confidence or understand yourself more fully. 

Different people seek different types of therapy. For example, you may be someone who requires a directive or practical approach, be in search of techniques to manage your difficulties or want a more open and explorative approach like that offered in psychodynamic therapy.

Beginning therapy is a mutually agreed decision between therapist and client. By asking what you hope to gain, your therapist can better establish whether the two of you are a good fit, and if they in fact feel able to help you.

Lastly, this question also seeks to help you understand what are reasonable or realistic expectations in therapy. Remember, therapists are not miracle workers, and therapy requires you to work, think and reflect on often painful or difficult parts of yourself and your life. 

5. Do you have any previous experience of psychotherapy?

This question is broadly asked to gain an understanding of what, if any, experiences you may have of therapy. If you have had therapy previously, your therapist may enquire whether you found it helpful or unhelpful, what style of therapy it was, how long it lasted and what issues you explored. 

Perhaps you are bringing a similar issue as before, and you may feel some trepidation about beginning therapy again. The responses to these questions may hold clues or offer insight into your current difficulties.

6. Can you tell me about your childhood, upbringing and family background?

Everyone’s upbringing, family dynamics, background and experiences are different, but often a therapist may be curious about the following:

  • What is your current relationship like with your parents or caregivers?
  • Are they together or separated?
  • Are they alive or dead?
  • Do they live close by?
  • Where did you grow up?
  • What was your childhood like?
  • Do you have any siblings, if so, what is your relationship like with them?

For psychodynamic therapists in particular, questions about the environment of your early life, experiences and relationships with your parents or caregivers are very important.

For example, growing up, did you experience your siblings as receiving more than you, did you feel misunderstood or ignored, perhaps you felt you were expected to be someone or something different? Maybe your early life was chaotic or interrupted to some degree, such as moving house often.

Whilst these questions are deeply personal and can be anxiety-provoking or unsettling, your therapist is asking them as they seek to understand how your upbringing may have shaped who you are as an adult – the work you do, the relationships you have or haven’t had, how you use drugs or alcohol or how you relate to people.

These questions ultimately aim to help your therapist understand you and your external and internal world more fully, and over time lead to you having a more comprehensive understanding of your life, relationships and experiences. 

7. Can you say a little about your historic relationships?

It is important your therapist knows a little about the types of relationships you have had in the past, how long they lasted, and whether there were, or are, any significant difficulties or issues in your relationship history.

Your therapist will want to ask you more about this area of your life so they can understand further why you may be experiencing difficulties or challenges in current relationships, or perhaps worry about whether you will be able to have a relationship in the future. 

It is important to remember that when you begin therapy, you are beginning a relationship, and whilst this relationship is very different to the other relationships or friendships you have in life, it is still a relationship.

Gaining an understanding of your relationship history can also offer clues as to how you may feel about, experience, or respond to a therapeutic relationship. Perhaps you find maintaining relationships difficult or find care hard to receive or maybe you feel you rely heavily on others for support and do not wish to burden your therapist. 

Your therapist will be curious about these aspects of your life as they can give further insight into your struggles and difficulties in your adult life, and provide further information and context that may be of importance in ongoing therapy. 

8. Is there anything about the process you don’t understand?

Your therapist will ask this to establish if things are making sense to you, and that you are feeling comfortable and confident in working together. Some questions you have may be more difficult to answer, but nonetheless, this is an important part of the development of the working relationship you and your therapist have. 

9. How ready or able do you feel to commit to psychotherapy? 

As with any relationship, commitment, time and effort are required in a therapeutic relationship.

This may seem like a confronting question, but given that therapy can be a challenging, upsetting and sometimes painful process, it is important your therapist can gain a sense of your readiness and ability to begin working together. 

Questions in therapy might sometimes feel puzzling, difficult or upsetting, but they are asked with your best interest in mind, and with the intention of learning more about you and your life and why you have arrived at psychotherapy at this point in time. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London N6 & NW5
Written by Joshua Miles, BA, MSc, BPC, BACP Accredited Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
London N6 & NW5

Joshua is an experienced Integrative Therapist who has worked with people experiencing varying levels of abuse. He has assisted people in recognising abusive patterns of behaviour when they occur & worked with them to understand their feelings, thoughts & ideas. He also works with loneliness, bereavement & depression. He is based in Shoreditch.

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