Your first therapy or mental health counseling appointment can be intimidating. If you’re feeling nervous or anxious about attending your first session — don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s completely normal to feel uneasy about change, even if it’s for the better.
If you’ve already scheduled your first session, congratulations, you’ve made it past one of the hardest steps. One of the most challenging parts about getting therapy or counseling help is choosing to start. So, give yourself a round of applause, a gold star, a pat on the back. Starting therapy is riddled with uncertainty — but it’s starting down the right path.
If you’ve landed on this article, your appointment is probably coming up soon, and you’re unsure how to navigate the process. Don’t worry; you’re not alone. That’s why we’ve put together a short guide to help with your first therapy appointment so that you can go in with confidence.
You’re probably going to have a lot of questions going into your first therapy appointment. Ask them! Therapists and counselors are there to help and will be happy to assist with any questions or concerns. Feel free to reach out even before your appointment. Doing so can better prepare you for what’s on the horizon while also easing some angst regarding your meetup.
There’s no such thing as a bad question here. Here are some common questions we’ve had that have helped alleviate some stress prior to a first appointment.
- What should I expect during the first session?
- How long will the session be?
- Will we jump right into why I’m getting therapy?
- What’s your counseling style?
These are just a few popular questions — but any questions will do. Whatever information you need to feel at ease with your first counseling or therapy session, feel free to reach out and ask before arriving.
Think About Your Goals
While you don’t need to come up with any comprehensive plan or checklist of tangible objectives, it’s good to think about what you want to achieve from your therapy or counseling session. It can be just a few words or actionable goals — whatever it is, take some time to reflect before heading to your first appointment to try and come up with at least somewhere to aim.
Your therapist may use these goals to better understand if they’re the right fit for you — and make your first visit a meaningful one.
Carve Out Some Time Before and After Your Session
If your schedule permits, we’d recommend putting some buffer time both before and after your session. This time allows for some reflection and introspection. Your first appointment is going to fill you with some angst, uncertainty, and maybe even a little dread. Having some time before your appointment to breathe, stay hydrated, and jot down some things you’d like to discuss can help you prepare for the task ahead.
Likewise, blocking out some time to reflect after your appointment is also beneficial. It’s a new experience, and you’re going to walk out with a lot on your mind. Instead of jumping straight from your first therapy or counseling appointment into a commitment, give yourself a little time to mull over what you learned during your appointment afterward. This cushion time also gives you a brief moment to deal with intense emotions that may be uncovered during your session.
Set Realistic Expectations
One of the best things you can do to prepare for your first therapy or counseling appointments is to set realistic expectations. Your first appointment isn’t typically going to take a deep dive into the complexities of your long term goals — and much of what you’ll do could be more clerical than therapeutic. Much of what you’ll do during your first appointment will be you and your therapist getting a feel for one another and making sure it’s a good fit.
The first session is all about getting to know one another. Your therapist may have their own questions to ask — and will likely gather some information about you to ensure that the relationship can be productive. Likewise, you can also ask questions, and together you’ll be able to gauge how to approach your primary issues.
Remember, Everything is Confidential
Opening up about your life and obstacles is extremely personal, but it’s important to remember that everything you discuss is confidential. Not only do therapists have ethical guidelines to adhere to, but also strict federal privacy regulations that protect information about you without written permission. The one exception is that a therapist may contact the authorities is they have reason to believe you are planning to harm yourself or others.
The Counselor is On Your Side
Your therapist or counselor is on your team. They’re here to help advocate for your betterment and assist you with navigating challenges in your life. A therapist isn’t there to point out all of your shortcomings or highlight your flaws — instead, it’s quite the opposite.
Remember that your therapist is on your side, and the more you begin to open up — the easier it will be. The initial fears and anxieties that accompany a first session fade quickly, and you’ll begin to look forward to these appointments as they are, well, therapeutic.
What About Virtual Appointments?
Many individuals have their first counseling session through telehealth services, but that doesn’t mean their fears, worries, or concerns are any less than an in-person meetup. Don’t worry; we’d recommend following the same formula we’ve gone over in this article for online counseling services.
- Reach out to your appointed mental health professional with any questions
- Consider any goals you may have for your therapy
- Block out some time for before and after your appointment
- Set some realistic expectations
- Keep in mind what you discuss in your sessions is confidential
- Your counselor is on your team
You’ve Got This
Attending your first counseling or therapy session is a big step in the right direction. It’s a step into the unknown, so it will be a bit frightening. However, once you start, you’ll be glad you did. Remember, there’s never enough questions — so make sure you ask all that you want before your appointment to relieve any stress or uncertainty. Your therapy is all about you.