First Therapy Session: Set Yourself up for Success

Beginning work with a new therapist can be both an exciting and anxious time. If you’ve never been to therapy before, you might be unsure how it works or wonder if there is anything specific that you should do to prepare for your first therapy session.

Key takeaways:

While you don't need to do extensive preparation before you meet with your new therapist, there are some things that you can do to set yourself up for success.

What to do before your first therapy session

If you're looking for ways to prepare for your first therapy session, here are some things you should consider doing.

Make space for your emotions

Whether you’ve worked with a therapist in the past or this is your first time seeing a therapist, you might feel many different complex emotions as you start therapy. Know that any feelings of anxiety, fear, excitement, stress, and any other emotions that you might have are all completely normal.

It’s important to make space for and validate these emotions. You may feel more at ease after your first session, but know that it's completely normal to feel some anxiety or discomfort before, during, and even after your first therapy session.

Check your insurance

If you’re planning to use insurance to pay for the cost of therapy, it can be beneficial to check your insurance provider’s policies and coverage. Some insurance providers may restrict the number of therapy sessions someone can have in a given year. Other providers may have restrictions on the types of therapists that are covered (e.g., a psychiatrist vs. a clinical social worker).

You may have to pay a copay or coinsurance for each therapy session, although this can vary depending on the policy. Check your insurance before you begin therapy so that you can be sure that you fully understand your policy and coverage.

Prepare some questions

A new therapist will have questions for you during your first session, but it's also important to think of any questions you’d like to ask the therapist. Prepare some of these questions in advance of your first therapy session.

Ask logistical or procedural questions, such as any questions about insurance coverage, scheduling, cancellation policies, or any other issues. You may also want to ask about the therapist’s orientation or training, how they’ve worked with past clients who are similar to you, and other important factors. Therapist fit is one of the most significant factors in determining the success of therapy, so prepare some questions that will help you identify if this therapist is the right fit for you.

Have some goals in mind

Whether you want support in reducing anxiety, managing stress, or processing grief, it's essential to know why you're going to therapy and what you hope to get out of the experience. In a first session, a therapist will typically ask what goals you have or what you're hoping to achieve by going to therapy.

Before your first session, think about what you would like to get out of the therapy experience. You may want to feel happier, experience less anxiety, or develop healthier coping strategies. No matter what you're hoping to get out of therapy, it's a good idea to brainstorm goals before your first session.

Be prepared to share past therapy experiences

If you previously worked with another therapist, your new therapist will want to know more about what that experience was like for you. If you have a diagnosed mental health condition like anxiety or ADHD, your therapist should know about that.

Your new therapist may also ask you questions about what has worked well for you in the past when it comes to therapy and what has been less impactful for you. It could be a good idea to reflect on your past therapy experiences. Identify what techniques or qualities of past therapists worked well for you so you can share that with your new therapist.

During your first therapy session

Once you've arrived at your first therapy session, here are some things to remember.

Keep an open mind

You may feel uncomfortable during your first therapy session if you don't have much experience working with a therapist. The therapist will likely ask questions about any symptoms you're experiencing and may even ask about uncomfortable or traumatic experiences.

You are well within your rights to decline to talk about anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. However, know that your therapist is there to help you, which requires you to share openly and honestly. Keep an open mind and push yourself out of your comfort zone to see the most benefits.

It’s okay to say that you’re nervous

Therapy is all about saying the unsaid and speaking our minds, often in ways we don’t in any other space. This makes it all the more important to talk openly about how you're feeling, even in real-time during the therapy session itself.

If you feel nervous, anxious, or uncomfortable about starting therapy, it's okay to say so to your therapist. You may even experience significant relief simply by saying those emotions out loud to someone else. Your therapist is there to support you, and that includes supporting you in getting acclimated to therapy.

Check-in with yourself

Pay attention to how your therapist makes you feel during your first therapy session. Do they make you feel heard? Did they respect your boundaries? Can you see yourself becoming more comfortable with them over time?

All of these questions can reflect the level of fit you feel with the therapist. Your comfort with a new therapist will grow over time, but check in with yourself during that first session to see whether you think it's a good fit.

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