Kenneth Kaye

Interviewing a Psychologist

(or any mental health professional or family dynamics facilitator)

Kenneth Kaye, Ph.D.

Questions to ask them at the outset:

  1. What is your professional discipline? What kind of license do you have?
    Discipline and degree Acceptable License
    Clinical psychology (Ph.D.) Licensed or Registered Clinical Psychologist
    Psychiatry (M.D.) Licensed to practice psychiatry
    Family therapist (should have a Master’s Degree in psychology, social work, or in some cases a related field like education or communications) Certified family therapist, either from AAMFT or through state certification
    Clinical or psychiatric social worker (M.S.W.) Licensed clinical social worker
  2. What code of professional ethics do you subscribe to? (Each discipline and license has a corresponding set of ethical standards. The professional should be conversant with those and happy to answer your questions about confidentiality and dual relationships.)
  3. Are you already bound to confidentiality, with respect to this conversation? (The answer will certainly be yes, but make it explicit.)
  4. Is there anyone you work with, who might come under the umbrella of your confidential relationship with us? (You are simply establishing that the professional takes responsibility for his or her notes, files, and discussions with professional colleagues. He or she guarantees privacy in every way.)
  5. Who would your client be? Is your relationship with one individual, or with our whole family or business? (If seeking help for an individual adult family member, the relationship should be with that member only. If it is a child or developmentally disabled adult, then the relationship should be with that person AND parents or guardians. If the work involves multiple members of your family or business, then it is important to establish that the family or the business is the client, and that the consultant has a procedure for maintaining appropriate individual confidentiality while building trust with all involved members.)
  6. Do you sell any products or receive any form of compensation other than for your time? (Absolutely not.)

If responses to any of the foregoing are unsatisfactory, end the conversation at this time. Otherwise go on to describe the concerns that have led you to seek a consultant in the mental health or family dynamics field. You should feel comfortable telling the consultants whatever they need to know at this point, to get an idea how they would approach the task. Finish with a few more questions of your own:

  1. What is the breadth of clientele and problems you work with in your current consulting practice? What proportion of your work involves family firms? How many of your clients are high net worth families with family offices or similar wealth management entities?
  2. Do you have any relevant publications that would be helpful for us to read in the process of choosing our consultant?
  3. Can you give me some references (clients or professional advisors) who are familiar with work you’ve done with families like ours?
  4. What are your fees? (These should be either straight per day or per hour, or based on estimated time for the specific requirements of a project; not a retainer or any kind of standard fee. Travel expenses are additional.)

Questions to ask yourself after initial conversations with each candidate:

  1. Did they ask smart questions and show they understood what I was saying?
  2. Did they give examples of prior experience with issues like the ones we face?
  3. Did they make too many assumptions and already seem to have the answer? (Bad) Or were they prepared to learn through a process of inquiry, interviewing the appropriate individuals and facilitating discussion among us so as to work toward an understanding from which solutions might emerge?
  4. Did they seem committed to a particular clinical theory or school, or a favorite tool which they tend to impose on all clients? (Bad.)
  5. Did their initial recommendations about how to begin the work make sense?


In short, you’re checking out four aspects of any psychological consultant whom your family might consider engaging. You might assign each candidate a grade in each of these areas, and then hire only a person to whom you give four A’s:

Independence The professional charges only for his or her time; sells no products, has no hidden agendas or conflicting interests.
Personality I am (we are) comfortable talking with this consultant.
Mind He or she is intelligent and insightful, but doesn’t come already knowing the answers.
Qualifications This person or team has professional training, an appropriate license, and substantial experience in situations like ours.

copyright reserved 1998, Kaye Family Business Associates, Inc.

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