Whether you’ve never been in therapy before or you’re just starting up with a new provider, that first initial session together can be nerve-wracking. As someone who has been in therapy before, I know the anxious thoughts well: “What are they going to ask?” “Will it be awkward?” “What if they don’t like me?” “What if I don’t like them?” “Are they going to think my problems are dumb?” “How am I supposed to tell so many personal details to someone I’ve never met before?”
Seeing a new therapist is definitely at least a little scary for everyone. I think we all go into therapy sessions with certain expectations, positive or negative, so the thought that our expectations may or may not be accurate is a little daunting.
While I can’t guarantee you and your new therapist will be a good fit, or that therapy will feel natural right from the get-go, or that you’ll be ready for every question your therapist asks you, I can at least lay out some basics so you feel a little more prepared than you might be otherwise.
1. Consider your intentions.
Most likely your new therapist will ask you some questions about why you decided to seek out therapy. They’ll want to know if there was something that happened in your life that motivated you to schedule with them, or if there are certain symptoms or concerns you’re hoping to address in your work together. As you get ready to meet your new therapist for the first time, ask yourself what your intentions are for starting therapy. What are you hoping to get out of the experience? What are you hoping to accomplish? Are there certain goals you’re hoping to reach? All of those questions are great paths toward making your efforts in therapy purposeful and will also be helpful as your therapist is trying to get an idea of how they can help you best.
2. Decide what’s most important.
The average therapy session lasts about 45-55 minutes, so there’s only so much ground you can cover in your first session. Decide what the top 1-3 topics you want your therapist to know about are before you get to the appointment, so you aren’t rushed to remember what you wanted to talk about in the last five minutes. Your therapist will only know as much as you tell them, so make sure you know what you want to prioritize from the beginning!
3. Prepare for the logistics.
Your first appointment with a therapist usually includes quite a few logistical items. Depending on how much your therapist or their office asks of you before your appointment, you may have to take some time during your first session to cover things like billing and payment, schedule preferences, or additional forms to sign. Many therapists also take some time in their first meetings with clients to cover some big topics from their consent paperwork like confidentiality and cancellation policies. Most of the time, therapists will let you look over their policies ahead of time, so it can be a good idea to review that before your appointment, so you know what to expect. If you take any medications, you may want to write down the names and dosages of what you’re prescribed, as well as the name and contact information for who prescribes them. Also, make sure to bring your insurance cards and/or methods of payment so your therapist can make sure they have everything accurately in your file.
4. Take a moment to settle.
Starting therapy is both exciting and scary, so the prospect of getting ready for your first appointment might bring up a lot of emotions for you. That’s totally normal! It can be a good idea to take a few minutes before your appointment starts to breathe some deep breaths, close your eyes, and bring yourself into the present moment. If your adrenaline is pumping, don’t be afraid to do a few jumping jacks, stretch out your muscles, or belt out your favorite tune. If you’re not feeling very successful at calming your nerves, don’t worry about it. Therapists are trained to help with and work through high stress, so we’re here for you, even if it’s only your first time seeing us!
5. Remember that therapy is about YOU.
At the end of the day, it’s not your job to make your therapist like you. If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, if they end up having a different style than you expected, or if you just don’t vibe with them for whatever reason, that’s okay! You have a right to advocate for yourself and your own therapeutic needs, because therapy is about you. Let your therapist know if there’s something you’re wondering if they could change for you or something that they could do to make you more comfortable. And if you end up deciding a certain therapist isn’t for you, you can always try out someone new! We know that our styles of therapy aren’t for everyone, but we always try to accommodate where we can. Let us know how we can serve you best!
If you’re thinking about trying therapy, whether for the first time or the billionth, EVOLVEwithin would love to help. Give us a call and let us know what we can do for you!
Article contribution by Tabitha Schroeder, MS, MFT-IT