What to Expect and How to Prepare for Your First Therapy or Counselling SessionJul 16, 2023
So you've found a therapist, made contact and arranged a first therapy session. With this excellent first step, you're relieved and hopeful to be starting the journey. Equally, you may also feel nervous or unsure about how to prepare for your first therapy appointment ...
In addition, you might be wondering what an effective therapist should do and how to make the best of your introduction to therapeutic support.
In this case, this article will help you prepare for your first therapy session with confidence.
Mark’s first therapy session
Mark, a 38-year-old, self-described “chin up” type, came to see me on a humid Tuesday afternoon in July.
His discomfort was palpable - fingers tapping a nervous rhythm on his knee.
Dressed in a smart, casual button-down shirt and khakis, he looked better prepared for a boardroom meeting than a counselling session.
I knew I needed to come, he said. I’ve been putting it off for ages.
Well, I’m glad you’re here, I responded. Let’s find out how we can make it worth your while.
To help me understand Mark's circumstances, I'd sent him some standard questions in advance. Yet these had remained unanswered.
I sensed a different approach was necessary.
How are you feeling right now? I asked.
That simple question was enough to get things moving. As it happened, Mark couldn’t remember when he’d last been asked about himself.
A few minutes and several thoughtful nods later, we had journeyed through the whirlwind of Mark’s life - the relentless deadlines at work, irritation with family members, his private concerns about recurring headaches, a desire to lose weight, and a pervasive feeling that life was passing him by.
Sorry, that’s all quite a jumble, he said with a slightly embarrassed grin.
As it transpired, the seemingly disconnected data deluge contained several themes we could address together.
For Mark, the opportunity to pour out his thoughts and be truly heard was a significant first step.
His smile was still a bit uneasy, but it was genuine. The initial unease was melting away.
He had taken his first crucial step into the world of therapy, shedding light on the tangled path he'd been struggling to navigate alone.
Meeting Your Therapist for the First Time
The fact that you have a first meeting with your therapist means you've already done important work.
It takes strength and courage to book that first appointment. First, you must recognise a problem exists and acknowledge that you need help.
So, if you've already taken the leap and booked your first session, congratulations. You’ve taken a momentous step towards making progress.
As a newcomer to therapy, it's natural to wonder, 'What can I expect in my first therapy session?'"
If you're feeling nervous or apprehensive, know that it's perfectly normal and quite common. Here are some guidelines to summarise what you can expect from your first meeting.
What to expect from your therapist or counsellor
A therapist's role isn't to dictate your actions or pass judgment on decisions that you've made. They are not there to dwell on the rights and wrongs of people in your life.
Instead, their job is to help you direct your focus. They will guide you towards what you can and can't change — ultimately, your choices and responses to events.
Your initial session will primarily involve your therapist asking questions to understand your reasons for seeking support. Instead of an interview, your therapist should be skilled in managing this exchange like a relaxed and natural conversation.
You'll likely discuss your goals for therapy and define your expectations. This information enables a competent therapist to offer a broad roadmap and sense of direction for your work together.
The therapist's approach will vary depending on their training background and your reasons for seeking support. However, an effective therapist typically aims to help you define and understand the bigger picture of your circumstances.
Your therapist will also assist you in resolving emotional upsets and focusing on your strengths to help you define and reach your goals.
This might entail discussing past trauma and developing strategies to help you move forward.
It may involve helping you prepare for stressful events and life transitions and bringing to light new insights and emotional perspectives on the challenges you confront.
You may delve into your personal relationships. The aim isn't to analyse others' faults but to understand your role in enhancing relationships or setting necessary boundaries to protect your well-being.
Regardless of your personal circumstances, an effective therapist should serve as an insightful sounding board with a toolkit of practical and emotional tools and strategies to help you regain control of your daily experience.
A therapist’s overarching mission is to help you gather and develop the emotional and practical tools you need to help yourself.
How to Prepare for Your First Therapy Session
With your first meeting scheduled, your therapist can contribute their skills and experience to help you improve your circumstances.
Be prepared to share your situation openly and honestly. Remember, candour is your quickest route to emotional progress and practical improvements.
While broad preparation is important, avoid rehearsal. This can lead to an over-agenda that hinders a relaxed and exploratory flow.
Remember, your therapist guides your first session, and they should have a firm sense of how to steer your time together.
Also, remember that you don't have to share everything in the first meeting. A skilled therapist will carefully listen for emerging themes in your story., so allow them to guide the process of making sure you feel heard and understood.
Embrace being open
A first therapy session may be the first opportunity you’ve had to share your circumstances openly and honestly.
Opening up involves a degree of vulnerability that may feel awkward or unfamiliar.
This is pretty much to be expected. Still, it can feel surprising, especially if you find yourself opening up to a stranger in ways you haven’t been able to open up to others in your life.
However, simply focus on sharing your circumstances and how you feel, and your therapist should handle how you navigate this together.
A skilled therapist will know how to quickly put you at ease and make delving into complex emotions and tricky circumstances feel like a normal and reassuring conversation.
Recap: How to prepare for your first therapy session.
- Clarify personal therapy goals. Be as clear as possible about what will make the therapeutic process meaningful.
- Ask yourself, What would have happened if I left at the end and knew it had been worthwhile?
- Be receptive and curious about new ideas and possible insights.
- Be active and engage in the process. Ask questions of your therapist and seek clarity if their responses feel unclear.
- Embrace a degree of uncertainty - you’ve taken a significant step in seeking support. It’s entirely normal to feel apprehensive. Take this as an indicator of your progress to come.
- Be proactive - ask for something practical to undertake. This might be a task to implement, a skill to practise, or a resource to read.
- Don't try to plan or script the session. Have an overview in mind of what you want to share, and trust yourself to share this in a way that feels right.
- Treat yourself with care and compassion. Therapy is a delicate process that can stir unanticipated feelings and emotions.
- Remain curious about the therapeutic process and know you have taken a positive and proactive step to address important life issues. For this, you are worthy of praise and respect.
Next Step: Find out how I can help.
Are you seeking an effective mental health professional to help you move forward?
Taking the first step toward contacting a counsellor or therapist is often daunting.
If you’re facing personal or professional hurdles and need support, I can help you.
If you’d like to take charge of your well-being and explore coaching or therapy with me, click this link to read more about how I can help.
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