It’s understandable to feel anxious and nervous when speaking to a therapist for the first time. But, to help put your mind at ease so that you’ll have a more productive and maybe even enjoyable experience, here are eight common things to expect during your first visit.
1. Do some research.
Before making an appointment, find a therapist that could be able to help you. For example, if you’re struggling with addiction, then you why would search for therapists who specialize in this field. After narrowing your options, visit their website, read their therapist profile, or ask for referrals. You may also want to see if you can have a free phone consultation to make sure that they are someone who would feel comfortable opening up to.
If so, schedule your appointment and prepare some questions on topics that you want to discuss.
2. What do you want to get out of therapy?
“A question that you may be asked is, ‘What do you want to achieve through therapy?’ So you might want to give that a little thought,” says Arlene B. Englander, a licensed clinical social worker. “The clearer you are, the easier it will be for the therapist to be able to know whether they’ll be able to help you achieve your goals.”
3. Your therapist will not judge you.
We can’t stress this enough, your therapist is there to help you and not be judgmental. But, if you’re still self-conscious, you should know that you’re therapist has probably already seen and heard it all before. And, even if they haven’t, you should also know that everything you say is kept confidential.
4. It’s OK to be nervous and uncomfortable.
Because you’re embarking on an inward journey, it’s natural for you to feel nervous and uncomfortable at times. And, that’s alright because it’s part of the process. Just remember, you’re in a safe environment and your therapist is there to help you.
5. You’re not going to get to everything.
Most sessions only last around 50 minutes. So, you’re not always going to get to everything you want to discuss. And, this is especially true during your first visit.
Your therapist may ask you more questions then you talking so that they can get to know you and begin developing your personal therapeutic plan. Also, because of this, you aren’t going to get too in-depth. Again, this is a get-to-know-you session and you’ll share more and more as you build rapport with your therapist.
6. Don’t jump to conclusions, but trust your gut.
“Sometimes we let our first impressions get the better of us,” writes John M. Grohol, Psy.D., the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. “When you first sit down in a professional’s office, you’ll want to take in their office environment. Is it welcoming and comforting to you? How does the professional talk to you — as a partner in your care, or as an expert who has all the answers?”
“What kind of relationship do you establish with the professional after a few minutes? Is it professional but friendly? Or is it cold and distant? Therapists call this ‘rapport,’ and having a good rapport with your therapist is ideal for getting good work done with them,” adds Dr. Grohol.
“Eventually, you’ll have to trust your gut about what it says about the therapist. But give them a fair chance before making a final decision about whether you’ll continue seeing them or not,” suggests Dr. Grohol.
7. You’re not going to be forced to make changes if you’re not ready.
“Many people fear that their therapist is going to expect them to immediately abstain from any self-sabotaging coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, self-harm or eating disorder behaviors, for example,” writes Joyce Marter, LCPC. “They might also worry that the therapist is going to want them to end a dysfunctional or abusive relationship that perhaps they are not ready to leave.”
In reality, therapists have been trained to meet their clients “where they are at.” That means “they respect where clients are at in the process of change,” explains Dr. Marter. “Furthermore, therapists know that people only change when they are ready and when they want to change.”
“Often, I let clients know that their negative relationship patterns or self-sabotaging behaviors will likely continue during the first phase of treatment, or they may recur at various points in the therapeutic process,” Dr. Marter states. “This is normal and expected and I encourage my clients to be open and honest with me because I will not judge them and it will help them the most to share these behaviors or relapses with me.”
8 Speak up.
Finally, if you disagree with your therapist, let them know. It will make you feel more comfortable and help your therapist understand you better.
And, if you feel that you and your therapist aren’t a good fit, then let them know after you’ve explored some areas. If you just end therapy, you may have the same problem the next time you speak with a therapist.