How to prepare for your first session

So you’ve found a therapist. Congrats! You’ve made a huge step toward taking control of your mental health needs. Now, what do you need to know before getting started?

Consider your expectations for therapy. What do I know about the therapy process? What do I need to know about the process to trust that it will help me? What questions do I have for my therapist? What are the most important aspects of my life that need to be communicated early in the therapy process? What do I hope to get out of this experience? Do I expect to “cure” my challenges or improve my quality of life while living with these challenges? Do I expect to get advice on dealing with challenges, or am I looking for a safe space to explore them without feeling judged or worrying about burdening someone with my needs?

Expect to feel uncomfortable, and possibly unorganized. You’ve probably been carrying around a huge emotional and mental burden, without a safe space to set it down. Now that you’ve finally got the opportunity to open up, you may struggle to communicate clearly with your therapist. Keep in mind that we are trained to help you with this specific challenge! You’ve got a lot to discuss; hit the important points, and expect to go into more detail when your therapist needs more information. The first session focuses primarily on gathering background information, identifying goals, and creating a trusting relationship with your therapist.

Consider your goals for therapy. You know what you don’t want anymore, but how would your life be different once you made progress? What do you want to learn to combat tough experiences? You may want to make a list of topics or concerns to help organize your thoughts and keep you on track. If you don’t know what your goals are, and you just know that you need help, be honest about that, and ask your therapist what goals they would recommend based on what you disclosed in your first session. You can always change your goals later, if needed.

Prepare for a new kind of relationship. Your relationship with your therapist will be completely different from any other relationship in your life. Client-therapist relationships are unique in that they often feel one-sided. Your therapist knows all your deep dark secrets, but they don’t share their own histories to “balance the relationship scale.” This will likely feel strange for you, as you won’t have the standard back-and-forth sharing of personal information like in your other relationships. Keep in mind, this is your therapist’s job, and they are specifically trained to deal with their needs away from their clients. You are not friends, which means you are not obligated to offer support to your therapist. Enjoy the opportunity to talk about yourself as much as you need to, without the social obligation of offering support in return.

Be genuine, vulnerable, and honest. Try your best to trust the therapy process, and ask questions when you don’t understand. This is an opportunity to be real about your needs and to get unbiased feedback and support from someone trained in mental healthcare.

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