Preparing for Your First Therapy Appointment
For many people the first appointment with a therapist can be somewhat nerve-wracking. If that’s true for you, remember that many, many people who have been in your shoes have gone on to have productive, comfortable relationships with a therapist. The following tips will help you know how to prepare and what to expect.
How should I prepare?
It may be helpful to write some things down before your first session, such as:
- Questions you have for the therapist
- Reasons for seeking therapy at this time
- What you’d like to accomplish in therapy
- Previous experience with therapy
This is useful because it can be hard to remember everything you wanted to say on-the-spot. Even more importantly, the process of writing these things down may help make your motivations and goals clearer to you.
Consider how you feel about medication It’s also a good idea to think about how you feel about medication before you go to your first appointment. Different therapists feel differently about medication, and some may attempt to steer you towards or away from medication.
Whether you are interested in medication or not, it’s a good idea to know how you feel about it so that you can have a thoughtful discussion with your therapist.
Arrive 15 minutes early On the day of your first appointment, try to get there at least 15 minutes early, so you have time to fill out any intake forms required. Intake forms are very normal just as they are in a doctor’s office. They simply help the therapist get a general sense of what’s going on for you so your first session can be more productive.
What will the therapist ask?
All therapists will ask you for some general information about yourself. This may include:
- Your physical and emotional health
- Your important relationships
- Your current coping strategies
- What issues you’d like to work on
- What goals you’d like to work towards
They may discuss possible medications with you.
Different therapists have different styles. Some may ask more about your background, some may ask about your current situation, and others may simply listen to what you have to say.
What should I tell the therapist?
If you haven’t had a pre-session consultation, then this is your first opportunity to interview your therapist. Learn what interview questions to ask when assessing whether a therapist is a good fit for you.
Share a bit about you In addition, be upfront with your therapist about:
- Things you’re sensitive about
- Things that are important to you
- Things that are difficult for you
For instance, “It’s really important to me that I have time to finish speaking, even if I take long pauses,” or, “My divorce is a really sensitive subject for me, and I’m likely to be very emotional if it comes up.”
This doesn’t mean you should be bossy or demanding—your therapist is a person, too, and your relationship with them also depends on you treating them with courtesy and respect.
Sensitive topics may still come up, but your therapist will be forewarned, and can approach them more carefully.
Share what you’ve learned and liked from past therapists If you’ve been to therapy before, be sure to share what you learned from that experience with your therapist. It can be particularly helpful to share what you’ve learned you do and don’t like in therapy.
For example, if you find role-plays really helpful, tell your therapist. If you hate them, tell them that, too. Let your therapist know what you’ve learned about how you relate to therapy so that you can benefit from your previous experience.
Assess your comfort level with them. It’s important you get a sense that you could feel comfortable sharing a deep level of feelings and personal details with this therapist.
If something in particular makes you uncomfortable, bring it up, and see if it can be addressed. If you feel uncomfortable with them by the end of the session, find another therapist.
Be open to new avenues of inquiry that your therapist suggests Your therapist’s years of experience in therapy may help them to see a link between two parts of your life that you might not see at first.
Try to focus on what’s most important to you Remember that your time is limited, and while you shouldn’t hurry through things, if a conversational tangent has led you to something that really isn’t relevant to the issues you want to focus on, feel free to say “I’m sorry, I’ve gotten off track. What I meant to talk about was…”
This is your session, and if you’d like to work on a specific issue, you don’t have to wait for the therapist to ask you. Tell them you’d like to talk about it.
If there’s a specific approach to a problem you’d like to try, share your interest with your therapist.
Your therapist is an expert in their field, but you are the foremost expert on you. Success in therapy will require both of your expertise, so be an active participant in your therapy.
You’ll get the most out of your session if you approach it with an open mind, energy, and forethought.