So you read The Beginner’s Guide to Finding the Right Therapist and you followed it up with Decoding the Mental Health Credential Alphabet Soup for some clarification…. And you found a therapist whom you feel like might be a good fit for you!
First off, congratulations on making the decision to go to therapy! What a powerful and impressive step you’ve taken on your journey to becoming the best YOU possible.
Despite the celebratory nature of the beginning of the post, you may be feeling anxious or nervous about your first therapy session, and you may not know what to expect from it. Well, I’ve got you covered (per usual).
Although every therapist operates differently, there are some similarities that are nearly inevitable — A ton of paperwork, a heap of questions, and one specific inquiry: “What brings you into therapy?” or some variation of it.
The paperwork will of course include your consent to treatment; and your typical demographics, contact information, and insurance questions. Further, the paperwork might dig into your medical, psychological, relationship, substance, spiritual, and occupational histories, and might even ask you to describe symptoms you’ve experienced recently. So, just be prepared to answer those questions to the best of your ability whether it be on paper, an electronic device, or in the form of an interview conducted by your therapist.
Here are 3 tips for navigating that first-session anxiety.
Ask your therapist what to expect in the first session.
Did you know that it is okay to call your therapist and ask them what to expect in your first session? Shocker. This is a good practice, because every therapist conducts the first session differently, and it may even depend on the setting in which you are to participate in therapy. There’s no harm in asking, if you knowing what will happen in that first session will increase your likelihood of following through.
Know that your therapist is there to help you, not judge you.
Many people feel hesitant to share their feelings, experiences, and worries with a counselor who is ultimately, “a stranger”. And this fear is valid, and normal! Your therapist should certainly be a stranger to you, and it’s totally human nature to be nervous about opening up to someone whom you do not know.
However, it’s important to note that your therapist is not equivalent to the stranger on the subway or the stranger you walk past at the supermarket. Your therapist is “a stranger” (not for long) who is ethically and legally bound to a confidential relationship between the two of you. That means that if your therapist ever “leaked” any information of yours that was not agreed upon by you, then they could lose their job, their license to practice, and even face legal repercussions.
Be that as it may, your therapist is probably not remaining confidential out of fear of losing their license or getting a fine. Therapists are human too and understand that life happens. You may think your issues are unique, weird, or crazy, but your therapist has probably already heard similar stories, and helped those people through their woes. It might also help to think that there are up to twenty-plus other “you”s (clients) that come to see your therapist on a regular basis.
Be open and honest.
It is important to be honest with your therapist because if not, you may not get the most out of therapy. And let’s face it — therapy can be expensive. It would behoove you to get to workin’ on your stuff.
Self-disclosure: my first time in therapy as a client, I wasn’t nearly as honest with my therapist as I should’ve been. I skirted around my real issue, and my therapist allowed me to do just that. Therapists aren’t mind readers, contrary to popular belief. My first therapist and I never got to the meat of the issue that brought me in, and I ended therapy feeling like I din’t take full advantage of the experience and that I still had so much more work to do.
Imagine trying to solve a large puzzle and all the corner and edge pieces are left out. Often, people use the corner and edge pieces as a starting point to help solve the puzzle. These puzzle pieces are as vital to the success of solving the puzzle as you being honest with your therapist is to your success in therapy.
That being said, when asked what brings you into therapy, be honest. It can be multiple things (and most likely isn’t an isolated entity causing you distress). Once your therapist has a full picture of what’s going on for you, they are better able and more equipped to help you, and to help you help yourself.
I hope this has been helpful for you! Please feel free to reach out to me with any specific questions, comments, or concerns. I wish you the best of luck on your journey through healing!