Going to therapy for the first time can be intimidating. The first time I went to therapy I was 11. My mom hauled me down to the therapist’s office and I waited impatiently to be called back. At the time, I hated my mom for forcing me to go to therapy and I knew I’d hate my therapist too.
I don’t remember much about my first therapy session with that particular therapist but I’ve had plenty of “first” therapy sessions with numerous therapists since.
Therapy can be a wonderful tool to assist you in healing and managing your mental health. You may want to start therapy but not know where to begin or what to expect.
What to Expect At Your First Therapy Session
When you first arrive at a therapist’s office, you will likely check in, fill out paperwork, and wait to be called back by your therapist. Some therapists have their own private practice so walking into their office might look a lot different than going to a large healthcare provider.
Your first session will be different from your future sessions. You will spend a good chunk of your first session getting to know one another.
Your therapist will ask you why you decided to seek therapy and what issues you’d like to address during your treatment. They may also ask any of the following questions:
- What are your symptoms?
- Are there any mental health issues in your family?
- Do you have a history of suicidal ideation?
- Have you had any suicide attempts or ever been hospitalized?
- Do you have a history of self-harm?
- Have you ever attended therapy before?
- How have you been coping with the problems that brought you to therapy?
They may also ask you about your childhood, relationships, current living situation, career, and education. You will also discuss what goals you have for therapy and what you hope to accomplish during your sessions. While you don’t have to bare your soul or share your deepest darkest secret during your first session, it will be helpful to divulge as much information about yourself as possible.
Preparing for Your First Appointment
Prior to attending your first therapy appointment, there are several things you should do to be prepared.
1. Compile A List of Questions
In some cases, you will be able to have a phone consultation with your prospective therapist to determine if they will be able to help you. While your therapist will ask you several questions, it will also be helpful for you to ask them questions.
Some questions you can ask during your consult include:
- Do you have experience with my specific mental illness and/or issues?
- Do you specialize in my problem?
- How long have you been a therapist?
- What is a typical session like and how long will it last?
- What kind of homework do you give out?
- What type of treatment styles do you use?
- How often will I have to see you?
- What is your cost per session?
- Do you accept my insurance?
If you’re Black or a person of color and you’re speaking with a white therapist, here are some additional questions you may want to ask:
- Have you worked with a person of color before?
- What have you done to learn about my culture and how are you continuing to learn about it?
- Do you believe that racism exists?
- Are you comfortable talking about topics such as racism, white privilege, or discrimination?
- Are you comfortable discussing the racial/cultural differences between us?
- How much training do you have in cultural competency regarding my race/ethnicity?
If you’re a part of the LGBTQ+ community and you’re seeking therapy, consider asking these questions:
- Have you treated people who identify as LGBTQ+ before?
- What is your understanding of sexuality and gender identity?
- Do you believe being gay is a choice?
- Are you familiar with the issues the LGBTQ+ community is facing?
For more questions to ask, check out this post.
2. Set Goals
Get clear on what you’re hoping to achieve from therapy. Knowing why you’re seeking therapy and what you’d like to gain from it prior to your first appointment will help you get the most from your sessions.
However, if you’re not sure what your goals are, that’s ok. You will work with your therapist to set clear goals for therapy.
3. Have Realistic Expectations
While the benefits of therapy are great, it doesn’t work overnight. You won’t feel better after one session nor will you be “cured”.
The therapy goals you set will take time to achieve because therapy requires a significant amount of work.
Remember that therapy takes time to work.
4. Remember That Therapists Are Human
I’ve seen several therapists over the years and some of them were horrible at their job. I’d often forget that therapists are also human and they don’t have all the answers. They will also make mistakes. This isn’t to say that you should settle or keep seeing a bad therapist, it just means try to extend some compassion towards your therapist if you feel like they’ve messed up.
5. Give Yourself Time After Your First Session
Sometimes after therapy, people feel worse than they did before the session. This is because a lot is being uncovered during sessions. Some people will need time to sit with their thoughts and feelings afterward. Having time after your appointment to process what you worked through is important.
Try scheduling your first appointment on a day where you’re off from work or don’t have much to do.
On the other hand, you may leave your first appointment feeling calm or even happy and proud of yourself.
After a few sessions, you’ll be able to gauge how you feel once therapy is over and schedule appointments at a convenient time.
Choosing to seek therapy to better yourself can be a frightening decision but it’s one that can be life-changing. Be proud of yourself for taking this step for your mental health.
Keep in mind that while it takes time to see results, it’s ok to switch therapists if you feel like the one you’re seeing isn’t a good fit. After a few sessions, if you don’t feel connected to your therapist or you don’t feel like any progress has been made, it may be time to search for a new therapist.
It’s ok if things don’t work out with the first therapist you see, I went through countless therapists before finding one who was a good fit. Try not to feel discouraged if you have to start over with someone new.
Your first session is the start of what will be a deeply rewarding journey.