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.

3 ways to get authentic and grow towards your vision this year

This year has had us talking about clarity. It’s easy to say, 20/20 vision, but what does that really mean? In optometry, 20/20 vision means the clarity or sharpness of what you see at 20 feet is what is normally seen at such a distance. But vision isn’t just about what’s clear to you within a 20-foot radius. Our eyes have other capabilities such as perceiving depth, focusing, seeing color, seeing our periphery, and coordinating with the rest of your body. All of these contribute to vision.

Perhaps we started this year with that 20/20 clarity. After all, the month of January finds most of us drilling down on resolutions and going on the 30 (or 21, or 66) -day journey of forming a new habit.

Here are a few ways to get authentic, and help you grow and focus your vision.

What do you stand for, and stand on?

Assessing vision begins with knowing where you literally stand. Our vision for our lives might ask us of the same. Here are some questions to help figure this out:

  • Where am I right now?
  • What is important to me?
  • What do I want to represent or stand for moving forward?

Can you read the signs?

Paying attention to your inner thoughts and how you respond to your world can say something about your direction. Are there any indicators of what pulls at your heartstrings and fuels your passion?

  • What inspires me?
  • What motivates me?

Dive deep.

All our work in becoming more aware, being mindful, and showing up little by little each day… prepare us to do the hard things. Have you ever had a moment after a long day at work where you realize you can’t think of one thing that was significant, memorable, or productive that happened during the last 8 hours? Imagine if that was happening to your life. We can spend our whole lives asleep if we don’t face the hard things. Facing the hard things can look like answering these questions:

  • What am I afraid of?
  • What am I struggling with?
  • What’s the worst – and best – that could happen tomorrow?

Look around. Read the signs. And dive deep. What will you be focusing on this month?

Cradled by the arts: 3 ways art and healing converge

Two months remain in the countdown to this year’s international conference on Expressive Arts (EXA) hosted by the Expressive Arts Philippines Network. For a second time, the founders of EXA, Paolo Knill and Margo Fuchs Knill, are flying to the country to facilitate the plenary workshops.

The event, aptly named Duyan: Cradling diversity through the Expressive Arts, aims to bridge the Filipino understanding of healing through the arts. With the mental health law being passed in 2018, we are currently witnessing increased awareness and discourse around personal wellbeing. In addition, it seems that now more than ever, Filipinos could use a safe space, a cradle, to retire and recover from various forms of stress or societal threats. Hence as a people inclined towards creative practices, the conference aims to offer EXA as a relevant approach to encourage healing within the Filipino community. It hopes to bring together leaders and practitioners in the fields of the arts, psychology, healthcare, psychosocial support in disaster response, humanitarian work, inclusive education, and social entrepreneurship.

As a primer to this upcoming event, the MAGIS team has thus prepared a list abridging the many ways in which the arts contribute to wellbeing. Specifically, we intend to shed light on the following questions: How do art and healing converge to create a safe space for diverse expressions? How can the arts be likened to a cradle providing retreat and rejuvenation?

Art meets people where they are.

To “meet people where they are” has been a time-tested adage in service professions. Effectively reaching out to anyone, in a professional setting or even in one’s personal life, takes a sensitivity to the other’s comfort zone. It takes a consideration for their needs and providing these at the right time.

The arts similarly deliver such openness and sensitivity to every person’s ability and expression. Engaging in the arts need not require talent. Exploring a medium–diving into paint with a paintbrush, taking pen to paper, or dancing as if nobody’s watching–already opens up opportunities for creative or emotional expression, learning, and self-discovery.

This is exactly what we learned at last month’s Head On Talk tackling Arts and Inclusion. Amos Manlangit, an artist, educator, and special education consultant, talked about his ladderized model for inducing creative flow for persons with special needs. As a facilitator, Amos allows his participants and students to first explore the materials as well as the process of art-making itself. The output is not judged by technique; rather the process of creation is highlighted by promoting mindfulness. There is then an invitation towards communicating ideas through symbols in the artwork or even further, attaching feelings to the creative process. These are, however, not forced nor required.

Amos Manlangit sharing his Inclusive Arts practice in Head On Talks: Arts & Inclusion, held at MAGIS Creative Spaces

The supposed “masterpiece” is not the end goal. The ladderized approach allows the facilitator to meet the individual where they are, at whatever ability level or ease of expression. The arts cradle us all.

Art provides a separate, dedicated space for safety.

The nature of creative expression invokes imagination and a sense of playfulness so that when one engages in the arts, there is a withdrawal from everyday reality and whatever troubles or issues it holds. As one of the principles of Expressive Arts therapy, this process is called decentering (Knill, Levine, & Levine, 2005). It involves feeling safe enough to let go and simply be. As therapist Douglas Mitchell (2012) has put it,

“We step away from ourselves as we know ourselves to be—lawyer, chef, accountant, candlestick maker—and release to the part of ourselves that doesn’t know, doesn’t plan, and doesn’t perceive what is going to happen next.”

The effectiveness of the arts in carving out such a safe space was exemplified in MAGIS’ program, Aesthetics of Self-Care, which we ran earlier this month for the East Asian Pastoral Institute (EAPI). The sabbatical renewal experience at EAPI services religious and lay persons in active ministry who experience high levels of stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout. For a whole week, the MAGIS team enjoined the priests and nuns to return to their childhood. Together we played, danced, and made art. These creative expressions allowed a sense of safety and made room for each to “decenter.” Ultimately, the program helped participants take a step back from the intensity of their work and simply rest through artful self-care practices.

A look into The Aesthetics of Self-Care workshop at East Asian Pastoral Institute

Art rejuvenates through self-discovery.

Resting through the arts is not an exercise of passivity. The senses are kept active (for instance, when listening to music or sculpting clay) while the mind is continually stimulated. The creator appraises the work as it takes shape and modifies it along the way.

Likewise, the finished product can be used as a tool for reflection. Artworks may be viewed as an extension of the creator so then, after finishing a piece, he can ask himself “What does this work say about me?” A simple prompt like this serves as a nudge towards self-discovery. In this way, the artistic process offers the possibility of learning something new. Aristotle referred to this as poeisis, or “learning by making.” Art-making offers true rejuvenation inasmuch as the maker is revitalized by the discoveries he makes—whether about himself or the world.


If you would like to experience the expressive arts as a unique approach to personal well-being, or grow your professional practice through the expressive arts, join us this November 30 – December 1 for Duyan: cradling diversity through the expressive arts. This event is hosted by Expressive Arts Philippines Network and made possible through the partnership with MAGIS Creative Spaces and Jollibee Group Foundation. Duyan is also supported by incredible Advocate Partners: Dr. Gia Sison, Art Ventures and Advocacy Network, and Media Partners: Radyo Katipunan.


Print Reference:
Knill, P., Levine, E. G., Levine, S. K. (2005). Principles and Practice of Expressive Arts Therapy: Toward a Therapeutic Aesthetics. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

3 Ways Art Promotes Inclusivity

Part of the core principles of the expressive arts philosophy is to meet you where you’re at. In the clinical setting, an important part of attunement: “a felt embodied experience that can be individualistic as well as communal, that includes a psychological, emotional, and somatic state of consciousness” (Kossak, 2009). This means that, as someone who facilitates an experience or stewards a connection with another, you would offer someone the space to be seen and the time to be heard, just as they are.

Meeting someone where they are requires us to be plainly and profoundly connected to another, without any bias. It is to cultivate inclusivity in an environment by transcending differences and arriving at common threads that bind us together as a human society. From bringing understanding to sometimes misunderstood circumstances of individuals with special needs, to bridging cultures through a universal language of creativity and community, inclusivity cuts across a wide range of the needs of our society today.

Could inclusivity be a principle that applies to more situations than just an expressive arts experience? Here are a few ways the arts is facilitating attunement among individuals and within communities.

Art bridges cultures.

Click through to read more about this photo: Cartwheel Foundation on Facebook

Visual, tactile, and experiential language can bridge culture in ways that go beyond verbal communication. Arguably, this is because such language runs deep in the way we live. With Cartwheel Foundation, the arts bridges two different cultures and allow each one to be enriched by the other.

“Art can be found everywhere,” says Charissa Lopez, Program Officer for Education at Cartwheel. “Every time I visit our partner IP communities it enables me to experience their rich culture and tradition through their unique life ways.” Life ways is a profound way to see and define culture.

Administrative Officer and member of the Talaandig community, Berose Tacal, supports the importance of the arts to understand different ways that people live: “Nang dahil sa art, lumalalim ang pag-intindi mo. Nakikita mong may sariling pinanggalingan individually ang art. Nang dahil doon, lumalabas ang kultura, ang kwento ng tao.” (“Through art, understanding deepens. You begin to see where others come from, uniquely. Because of that, culture emerges: the story of the people.”)

Former Education Coordinator and member of the Talaandig community, Bricks Sintaon, also shares the impact in the educational setting: “Nakakatulong ang workshops sa art sa pagturo ng pagiging open at appreciative. Na-lessen ang judgement. Na-process na ganito ang pananaw para tingnan ang ibang kultura, nagiging madali gawin ito. Nagkaroon ng chance para mag-merge sa ibang community.” (“Arts-based workshops help by teaching us how to be open and appreciative. There is less judgement. When we have such a perspective when it comes to other cultures, it becomes easier to learn about them, and the opportunity arises to integrate into communities.”) 

The core of Cartwheel’s developmental work is in thoughtfully and respectfully integrating support and offering opportunities for empowerment in indigenous culture, to help its members be more self-sustaining, gain access to equitable resources, and most of all, be empowered as a people. The arts helps in this process through cultivating connection on a deeper level, and tapping an innate creativity that builds upon differences and new learnings; that is inclusive. As Lopez says: “Through their life ways, art is naturally born within [indigenous peoples]. Art creates a bridge between IP and non-IP, through sharing of their stories, cultures and traditions.” 

Art can be an accessible vehicle for discussing important issues.

Click through to read more about this photo: MAGIS Creative Spaces on Facebook

Get Wired! at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde ran for the second time last July. Spearheaded by the Arts and Culture Cluster, the two-week program brings together the college’s members and network to open discussions around a common theme: art and healing.

“[It] has been my personal research interest for the last ten years,” says Project Head Ange Viceral, “and has magically manifested in the last two years of leading the Get Wired! Projects.” Get Wired! practices interdisciplinary and participatory approaches of the arts. As its name suggests, the activities and talks “help people ‘get more wired’ to themselves by connecting to other people in the workshops,” Viceral describes. “The expertise of the invited guests in the roundtable connected the people and stakeholders in Benilde towards one goal of helping out our students and associates in their mental wellness through the arts and a holistic view of the body through the self, soul and the other.”

The first of Get Wired!’s two events tested the waters by starting conversations about the landscape of therapy practice in Metro Manila, as well as exploring the emerging field of neuroaesthetics. Motivated by positive response, this year’s focus was deepening the discussion around neuroaesthetics. People wanted to understand how the brain worked, to understand how healing can happen. Viceral had different groups of students produce aesthetic responses to her own personal brain map — an assessment done by Mindworks Center for Mind Health that measures brain activity through EEG technology. Students responded to a recording of the music produced as feedback for the brain during the session. 

Click through to read more about this photo: MAGIS Creative Spaces on Facebook

As participants in both years’ events, the team at MAGIS has seen how art can be an accessible vehicle for people to discuss important issues. Witnessing the art of a brain map being interpreted through movement, textiles, and visual art was a discussion in itself.

Discussing themes that run common threads through individuals is a valuable step in becoming better attuned to each other. “I think people had the same fascination and curiosity to this topic continuing the neuroaesthetics perspective and now integrating it into a more local context,” Viceral explained. “The performative installation we did as a collaboration with the students and faculty of Benilde, together with the experienced panel in the roundtable discussion, gave a very meaningful flavor to this year’s Get Wired! 2 and contextualized the context of Ginhawa as a Filipino aesthetic of the body. People still wanted more. I think that we are all in the right path.”

Art can start conversations.

Click through to read more about this photo: FAM Mnl on Facebook

Conversations and meaningful discussion are not exclusive to organized roundtable discussions. FAM Mnl thought about how everyday objects in our day to day routine can start the conversation, too.

“We chose everyday items because it can serve as friendly reminders to our buyers and also conversation starters to those around them,” says Jill Santos, Co-Owner at FAM Mnl. Their first collection, the Semicolon collection, includes apparel, and accessories like waterproof stickers, water bottles, and notebooks. “We believe that with our products more and more people can start conversations on mental health.”

Jill is part of a team of Clinical Psychology graduate students who were inspired to start FAM Mnl as they were exposed to environments where stigma about mental health is evident. “We interact with individuals who express that their feelings aren’t understood or how their voices aren’t heard. We also noticed the increase of individuals who experience mental health problems,” explains Jill. 

The objects all around us tell stories about us, and can help us tell stories as well. Jill paints the picture: “With just one question of ‘What does the Semicolon on your shirt mean?’ They are given the opportunity to share their knowledge and stories through powerful narratives.”

To say our narratives are powerful could be an understatement. When we begin to relate to stories–feeling the emotions, growing a connection with the characters whether or not we know them–we are building the foundations of empathy. Paul Zak puts it well: stories bring brains together. We form connections and relationships through empathy, and human connection is the first step in growing into better, more inclusive societies that are safe spaces for all kinds of stories, especially the ones that need to be heard.

Do you know of or have a project that gives the arts the chance to promote inclusivity? Tell us your story. 


MAGIS designs experiences and gatherings that bring people together through the arts. This November, join us in Expressive Arts Philippines Network’s conference for 2019 – Duyan: cradling diversity through intersections of art and healing. EXA Philippines is a network of practitioners from a diverse range of fields, with the common advocacy in growing the practice of the expressive arts for social impact.

The Art of Inclusion

On July 18th, we took to the Museum Of A History Of Ideas in UP Manila to listen to a talk on expressive arts and the kind of impact it has on the Philippine society. The afternoon’s speaker and workshop facilitator, Amos Manlangit, often integrates mandala-making in his talks and workshops, asking participants to collaborate in filling the spaces of a hand-painted template. For this particular session, Amos also offered a question prompt:

What is art to you?

It was a question simple enough to be both easily accessible and a stepping stone to deeper inquiry. To answer the question, we had to illustrate or write in our chosen space in the mandala. It didn’t matter what kind of creative background we came from, for as long as we were able to reflect on the question and form an answer with which we truly resonated. The end result was a truly beautiful and meaningful piece of collaborative work.

Whether the expressions were simple or intricate, they all found their place in the mandala. And when we stepped back and saw the bigger picture (literally), we realized we were looking at a rich representation of what unity in diversity looks like what a society might look like in acceptance of differences, in celebration of diversity, and in continuous cultivation of inclusivity.

‘Inclusion’ is most commonly defined as, ‘the action or state of including, or of being included [within a group or structure].’ In addition to this classical definition, Merriam-Webster specifically defines inclusion as ‘the act or practice of including students with disabilities in regular school classes.’ While these definitions begin to reflect the societal issues about inclusivity we face all over the world today, putting it into practice is another story.

In the expressive arts practice, inclusivity takes shape in its foundational principles of art being a companion that ‘meets you where you’re at’. Art-making becomes a process that fuels outcomes indiscriminate of any skill-level or art-form In other words, you don’t have to be good at art to engage with it. Amos talks about this as well in describing creative engagement – which is a framework he developed on how an individual’s creative development can deepen no matter what point he is in his own personal development or growth.

Creative engagement and arts-based practices do not come without challenges. The discussions at the afternoon’s talk revolved around accessibility for hard-to-reach communities and institutionalizing the practice. In our own programs, we have also experienced the intricate conversations of designing the creative experience and make it more relevant to culture, context, and character.

The rewards can weigh more when creative engagement flourishes and when we are able to embrace diversity in society the same way we appreciated diversity in the creative responses to the mandala. Our community becomes richer because it. This how art-making facilitates an inclusive practice.

Photo from ASP – Santa Rosa’s Facebook page

Aside from last July 18’s event, one of the wonderful ways we’re seeing how art-making becomes an inclusive practice is through the Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP) event held last July 20. The event they held called Healing Discoveries highlighted how they are taking strides in making integrative arts accessible to the families of kids with autism. Our morning with them at this event saw how the community came together through kids yoga, pottery, and music.

In Healing Discoveries, Expressive arts practitioner and MAGIS Communications Manager, Adi Santos, created pinch pots (and more!) with families, and articulated how its creative process can be a way to strengthen our connections with each other beyond words. Shared art-making becomes a way to be present to someone who may be living differently from the way we do. Perhaps that’s all we need to start cultivating inclusivity through the arts: the intention to connect with each other more deeply, be present with another to understand them, and nurture how we see ourselves and the world around us.

How do you think you can cultivate inclusivity in your own unique, creative way?


Catch Amos Manlangit and more practitioners advocating for inclusion, at Beyond Fun: Therapeutic Arts and Play for Children with Special Needs, our upcoming Head On Talk on Arts & Inclusion, happening this August 31.