To my mind, it is an entirely appropriate question to ask - "Apart from your schooling, studies and training, have you done your own psychological work in a course of therapy?" Some may hem and haw around this question, if they have not. If you get the feeling they have not, seek out another therapist.
* attend to your comfort level in their consultation room ... are the chairs comfortable, are you fairly close to the therapist or stuck across the room, is the consultation room sound proof ...
* are you comfortable with their body language ... does the therapist seem comfortable in their own skin?
* as much as you may want advice, a good therapist should be there to facilitate you finding your own answers. Certain suggestions on how to deal with anxiety and stress will be helpful - certain educational moments happen at different points to help you understand your own process - but just notice if your therapy sessions become more problem-solving or advice-giving sessions. If that is the case, it is not truly therapy. Lazy therapists will fall into the trap of always giving advice.
* Has the therapist worked with anyone else with the same issues as you?
* Is the therapist comfortable working with any dreams you bring to the session? I like a therapist familiar with Jung's perspectives for dreamwork.
* How long have they been working in the field?
* What is their policy about cancellations?
* How long do they think you will need therapy?
* Are they able to do both short term and long term therapy? Which do they think you will require?
* How will you both know when the therapy is completed?
* Do they issue receipts and/or deal with third party payers (insurance companies)?
* If you are dealing with relationship issues, would they be comfortable meeting and working with you and your partner for a couple of sessions?
* Are they planning a sabbatical or lengthy vacation in the near future after your therapy gets started? (You do not want to just get comfortable disclosing with your therapist and then have them disappear for a month or two.)
* Do they work at the time of day most convenient for you?
* Remember that in the first couple of sessions YOU should be assessing whether this is the person you want to work with. If not, be honest and let them know that you do not think 'the fit' is right and that you prefer to keep looking. A good therapist should be entirely comfortable with your choice.
Things you can do to maximize your therapeutic experience:
* Don't wait until near the end of a session to disclose important developments, feelings, issues - if possible. Of course, it happens that something important may only occur to you at the end of a session. But you have 50 minutes to 1 hour to work - maximize the time available to you by bringing up the important issues early in the session - if you are already aware of them.
* Take time to reflect on the content of your session - after it is over. This is how you maximize learning and understanding.