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
Maggie here, lets talk about stigmas! Stigmas around mental health are everywhere. Luckily while working in the field of mental health I have had the privilege of helping reduce that “stigma” and neutralizing mental health illness. It is my hope that this blog will inform those of you who struggle with mental illness and educate those of you who may not realize the lasting effects of stigmas. Through my post-secondary education and experience I have seen many people struggle with the effects of the stigmas and discriminations that are so prevalent around mental health. I have seen connections between stigmas and discrimination. Mayo Clinic defines stigma as a person viewing an asset or quality within someone in a negative way. With that being said, if a person is treating you in a negative way because of your mental illness, this can be similar to discrimination.
An unfortunate side effect that individuals can encounter when having a mental illness is this black cloud of assumptions they could experience from society. This burden, in turn, worsens the problem and makes it difficult for one to cope. Individuals experiencing this stigma can feel shame in their personal lives, fear in getting treatment, self-doubt, hopelessness, and isolation. In working in the medical field, I have had the privilege of working with some amazing professionals who have both studied stigma and who have taught people with this cloud how to overcome such sadness. With that being said I have learned an important skill, which is to remember: You are in control.
You are in control! Try to think to yourself, “what are the things in my life that I can have control over and what are the things that I do not have control over?” When we put our thoughts into this kind of perspective it can decrease the anxieties that one experiences when worrying about things outside of their control. An example of this could be individuals that create stigma and discrimination around mental illness. This is out of our control, but what we can control is reaching out for help when we have difficulty overcoming those influences.
This is easier said than done. The heaviness that the world places on us can be extremely powerful, especially when the judgment comes from our loved ones. However, this is not an impossible task. The idea of reminding oneself, “Is this in my control or out of my control?” is key! This will take practice, but with practice will come a great deal of reward and ease. Accepting what is out of your control and then modifying what is in your control can serve you best when learning how to handle mental health stigma.
Stigma and discrimination may always be there but having these conversations, informing, being aware, and sharing articles like this one will educate and support those who may not know the impact of their perception. Don’t let stigma be the cause of your anxiety and depression; continue to remind yourself, “Getting help is in my control and changing what others think and say is out of my control.”
Here at EVOLVEwithin, we care deeply for those working through mental illness and care deeply for the relationships you have. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health we have wonderful therapists who are able to help. Give us a call at (262)-649-3297 to schedule your spot today!
Article contribution by Maggie Berg, MFT Clinical Intern
Whether you’ve been married to someone with an anxiety disorder for twenty years or you just went on your first date last week, it can be tough to figure out the best way to support and be there for your significant other when they are struggling. To make things even more complicated, not every anxiety disorder is the same, and even two people with the same diagnosis might experience their symptoms in completely different ways! Regardless of what they’re going through, it’s hard to feel like a helpless bystander while your loved one is suffering. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I not only work with individual diagnoses, but I pay special attention to the ways those diagnoses can affect relationships (which is a lot of ways!). I’ve put together four brief tips to help you start navigating these challenging waters:
1. Do your research
Read up on your partner’s diagnosis and symptoms. While it’s important to let them tell you about their individual experience with their anxiety, it can also help them feel cared for and understood if you take the time to educate yourself on what they might be going through. For example, if your significant other has Generalized Anxiety Disorder, one of their symptoms might be becoming tired more easily than usual or even just feeling tired for no apparent reason. If you’ve done your research and know that fatigue is a common symptom of anxiety, you’ll be able to sympathize with your partner when they complain of not knowing why they’re so tired all the time. Another great way to do your research is to read articles (like this one!) that offer tips on how to help someone with the diagnosis that your partner has. So, great work! You’re already taking a positive step toward helping your loved one manage their anxiety.
2. Don’t take it personally
Sometimes (or oftentimes) your partner’s anxiety might spill into your relationship. They might feel some anxiety about whether you still love them or about whether your relationship is the “real deal”. They might ask you for reassurance over and over again no matter how much you say you want to be with them. As the person on the receiving end of these insecurities, you might start to wonder what you’re doing wrong or why your significant other doesn’t trust you the way you trust them. While it’s normal to have those thoughts, my encouragement to you is to remember that your loved one’s anxiety isn’t about you. If you take their worries personally, it’s easy to think that they have anxiety about your relationship because they think you’re an untrustworthy person or that you’re the type of person to cheat on them. In reality, the source of their anxiety is probably not related to you at all! If your partner tells you they have some fears related to your relationship or if they exhibit any of the behaviors I’ve mentioned here, take a moment to remind yourself that their anxiety doesn’t mean you’ve done anything to hurt them, and ask them how you can help them ease some of those worries. Your support in those moments can be so valuable to the strength and the growth of your relationship.
3. Listen first, suggestions later
You care about your partner, right? So, naturally, you want to make all their problems go away and ensure that they never feel any negative emotions - ever! It is really hard to just stand by and watch someone you love suffering through moments of anxiety. How often do you catch yourself thinking or saying something along the lines of “Maybe if you tried …xyz… then you wouldn’t feel so anxious”? We automatically go into problem-solving mode when we know our partner is in distress because we want to help them to not be in distress anymore. The trouble with anxiety is that there isn’t a perfect solution that makes anxiety go away. Even when certain things work in some circumstances, they might not work all the time. On top of all that, when anxiety hits, it can be hard to process potential solutions when your nervous system is on such high alert. When your partner tells you they feel anxious about something, let your first response be listening. Help them to get through that difficult moment. Then, later on after their anxiety has calmed, offer your suggestions: “I know you were really worried about that thing before. I was wondering if you had ever tried …xyz… Do you think that would help?” When your significant other has anxiety, giving them space to feel heard and supported can often be more helpful than any piece of advice you could offer.
4. Consider therapy
What better way to support your significant other with anxiety than to learn how to do it from the experts: therapists! Couples’ therapy can be a really amazing bonding opportunity for people in relationships, even if you don’t have anything you consider to be a major “problem” you want to work through. A therapist can help you and your partner learn more about how to work together and support each other through a variety of difficult situations, including times when your partner is feeling anxious. If you’re not quite feeling up to couples’ therapy, or if your significant other isn’t ready to try it yet, you might also consider individual therapy for yourself. I imagine you may be thinking, “But I don’t have the diagnosis, my partner does!” True, but therapy isn’t just for people with diagnoses. Therapy can be just a space to vent and process day-to-day life, a time to discover more about yourself, or, in this case, an opportunity to practice skills that will help you in your relationship with a person who has anxiety.
If you’re interested in trying out couples’ therapy, individual therapy, or even both at the same time, the therapists at EVOLVEwithin would love to help! Give us a call at (262) 649-3297 or visit our website to learn more or to request an appointment. We can’t wait to get to know you!
Article contribution by Tabitha Schroeder, MS, MFT-IT
Anyone out there without stress right now? There are many reasons to not be feeling like our best selves right now. With COVID-19 continuing to effect our daily lives or health concerns, social justice movements picking up speed, and political issues pulling us in every direction; there has been no shortage of stressors to weigh us down over the last few months. All that stress can easily take a long-term toll on our mental health and relationships.
Even though we know these things that are happening are hard on us, it can still feel challenging to admit that we’re struggling and want to see a therapist. We might tell ourselves that other people have it worse than we do, or that everyone is having a hard time right now so our needs aren’t that important. We might worry that people will reject us, judge us for needing help, or that they’ll think we’re incapable.
I get it. I personally have felt all those feelings and thought all those thoughts. I know how hard it is and how vulnerable it feels to reach out and tell someone you need a little extra support.
I’m here to tell you that seeking out help or going to therapy does not make you weak, helpless, or irrational. By choosing to see a therapist, you are choosing to listen to your body and take care of yourself, which is one of the most important things you can do in tough times.
You might be thinking, “What good is therapy actually going to do? Isn’t it basically just venting?” Short answer: Sometimes! We all have things we need to get out of our system every now and again, and who better to hear it than a therapist? Not only do we hold space for you to get out your frustrations, but once we hear what’s going on, we can help you explore what your feelings are, why you’re feeling them, and how to cope with them moving forward.
You might also be thinking, “I’ve been to therapy before and it didn’t help. Why should I try again?” It’s common for it to take a little bit of time before therapy feels like it’s helping. It’s also totally normal to have to try out a couple therapists before you find someone who is really a good fit for you and helps you make progress. Think about it this way: If you went to a new hairstylist and they gave you a bad haircut, you probably wouldn’t stop getting haircuts for the rest of your life––you would just try a different hairstylist! And, just like haircuts, therapy is a normal part of taking care of your wellbeing.
And now you might be thinking, “Yeah, maybe I should give therapy a try!” If that’s the case, we would love to work with you at EVOLVEwithin. Just give us a call at (262) 649-3297. If you’re not totally sure just yet, that’s okay too. We’ll be here for you whenever you’re ready!
Article contribution by Tabitha Schroeder, MS, MFT-IT
Maggie here, and I would like to welcome you to EVOLVEwithin’s Blog Site! I am a second year master's student at Edgewood College specializing in Marriage and Family Therapy, and I am grateful to be a new addition to the EVOLVEwithin Team. With the team’s support, I am confident in my readiness to venture with you through and beyond your therapeutic needs. With that said, let me share a little on why it would be beneficial to see me, or any clinical intern, as your therapist!
As I was throwing ideas around of how to compose this article I was thinking of relatable experiences that most go through and came to this conclusion: our lives progress from being taught, to then teaching others. All learning and teaching experiences are different, but mine relate to my passion for therapy. I have learned from professors and my peers, but more development has stemmed from the interactions I have with the people I help. Experiences that I am about to have as an intern will be a welcome extension to my education and teach me more than I could ever learn from a textbook. I would be grateful for the opportunity to be chosen as your therapist; we will learn together and work as a collaborative team, so you can receive the best personalized assistance through your situation.
Although I may be a newcomer to this private practice, my graduate studies assure that I have extensive knowledge regarding multiple types of therapy models. My current therapy style is fluid. With this in mind, you can find comfort knowing that I am flexible and able to put your needs first. It will be my goal as your therapist to research and explore the model that best fits into your life application.
To get a feel for how I am as a person, I would like to share an example of a model that I find powerful. Emotionally-focused therapy works towards reducing stress and anxiety in adult relationships. Refocusing, focusing on the “now”, establishing intents, and working towards reflecting on individual needs and emotions are key goals with this model. I find that exploring specific needs and emotions are important in order to validate feelings within couples. Pinpointing these feelings can broaden perspective of the situation and can open new doors in exploration. I find that holding space to share and show emotions, mentally and physically, can create a strong a personable bond between both the therapist and client(s).
An intern’s caseload will most likely be smaller than the average therapist. I will personally partake in a part-time caseload, so I will be able to give my undivided attention and will have the time to research and explore methods that will best suit individual, family, and/or couple needs.
Enthusiastic and Creative
Whether an intern has just started school or is finishing up their degree, they are new to doing therapy. Being new to therapy will allow enthusiastic and creative sides to shine. I have studied, practiced, and now I am eager to put all the hard work to test to see growth between clients and myself as the clinician. My time and energy spent receiving formal education has lead me up to this moment. You will not meet a more energized therapist than one fresh out of school. Creating ways to engage with both older and younger populations is something that I succeed in, and is a direct result of my fresh perspective.
Article contribution by Maggie Berg, MFT Clinical Intern