What to expect in your first therapy session

Recent events of 2020 have caused the rise of mental health concerns. As a result, more people have been looking into therapy, and there may be those that might be going through this process for the first time.  

How does therapy work?

Characteristic of an initial session of therapy is the chance to get to know your therapist, as the therapist gets to know you. A therapist will be asking a number of questions to help better understand your situation.

Therapy typically involves a commitment to sessions at least once a week for you to experience the results and improvement over time. It’s important to distinguish therapy sessions from appointments and consultations with your medical doctors that you do every so often for general check-ups. In the case of therapeutic sessions for mental health, it is the therapeutic relationship and your commitment and engagement that will foster your growth and wellbeing. It is significant when clients get to the point of seeking sessions voluntarily. The therapist’s overall goal would be to accompany you through a process of self-understanding towards building a sense of self-agency, to a point where therapy may no longer be necessary. In some cases, individuals desire to be in therapy for the long-term, as a choice, as they consider it necessary for their own wellbeing and overall health.

It’s important to consider that not all therapists are the same, and while each has their own style of facilitating a session, all have aim to give clients a safe environment where they can feel safe and comfortable discussing and exploring their thoughts and emotions. As such, it might be nerve wracking to not know what might happen in your first session(s) of therapy, so here are a couple of things that you could expect.

1. Discuss your goals

Whether you are in therapy for a particular issue or diagnosis, or for something specific you’d like to address, or simply desire to process your emotions regularly, the therapist will want to know what your goals are. This helps them assess and prepare how they should run sessions with you, as well as determine if they are a good fit, or if they need to refer you to a colleague who might specialize in concerns you bring up. In the same vein, it is also your opportunity to see if the therapist you are talking to is the right fit for you. It is not discouraged to take time to find the right person, and to experience different therapists before finding one you’re most comfortable with. If you are unclear about your goals, it’s okay. Your therapist can help you learn how to gain clarity about this.

2. Go over basic information

This is generally a casual discussion to help you get you more comfortable in the therapeutic space. If you were referred, the therapist might also go over the information she received about your reason for being referred to therapy, to make clarifications if needed, and to make sure you are on the same page. This helps your therapist gain a better sense of where you are and what you might be ready for.  This will also give the therapist an idea about whether you have a support system, and who in that system you feel you can most count on and trust. This allows your therapist to get a more holistic understanding of your situation before you start, and have a better idea of how to approach your sessions.

3. Talk about therapy sessions

You can also expect your therapist to discuss a basic overview of how she facilitates her sessions, as well as tools and materials she uses, and if you are drawn to any specific therapeutic modality. Your therapist may also discuss confidentiality in the first session, and will make it clear that while information shared in a therapeutic session will remain confidential; where your safety is concerned, she is mandated to ensure you get the proper care and would in this case need to inform a family member or another professional.  In such an instance, when the situation causes your therapist to have genuine concern over your safety, the safety of others, or the safety of the space, it is essential, and the therapist’s ethical responsibility to consult professionals who are able to support you and the process. 

4. Discuss how to move forward

If you both decide that you would like to continue with further sessions, you can also expect to have a brief discussion on how to move forward, such as how often to have sessions, and at what time. Based on your discussion of goals and general information such as your daily schedule and availability, your therapist will arrange a time convenient for you, that encourages consistency. It is with consistency that you will experience progress.

5. Ask questions

The therapist will always encourage you to ask questions. Thus, if you have any specific concerns regarding therapy, it is important to bring them up when you have them, and if you feel able to do so.  Throughout the time you are in therapy questions, of course, are always encouraged.

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