/ Mind/ How To Prepare for Your First Therapy Session
Preparing for your first therapy session can feel overwhelming. Inkblot offers expert advice to help you get ready for your first session.
Whether you’re looking for advice on managing a new life transition, want help coping with a mental health condition or are simply curious about how counselling could benefit you, deciding to start therapy is a huge step towards prioritizing your mental health.
Psychotherapy can help give you the tools to improve your own resilience, manage your personal stresses and cope with a wide array of mental health symptoms. But like with any new experience, heading to your first therapy session might also come with some feelings of uncertainty.
“It’s completely normal to feel nervous in that first session,” says Shana Prinsloo, a registered Clinical Psychologist and Senior Clinical Manager at Inkblot Therapy. “Whenever we embark on something new, it’s expected that we are going to feel unsure about it.”
In order to help ease some of that “first-day-of-therapy” anxiety, we spoke with Prinsloo about what to expect from your initial counselling session and how to make the most of your experience.
Just like there is no one-size-fits-all model for therapy, there’s no wrong way to show up for your first session. You won't be judged or corrected for not immediately recounting your childhood traumas or for feeling shy on your initial intake. According to Prinsloo, the therapist’s objective during your first session is simply to get an understanding of what it is that brings you to therapy and what you are hoping to achieve.
“They might ask what brings you to therapy, what symptoms or struggles you’re experiencing, about your relationships, your interests and your goals,” says Prinsloo. “Some will use a really structured approach where they ask specific, predetermined questions. Others will take a more relaxed approach and go with the flow, so to speak. Either way, your therapist is going to ask you questions that allow them to get to know you better and assess how you can work together to achieve your therapeutic goals.”
In your first counselling session, you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to deciding whether your therapist is right for you, so come in prepared to ask questions. Some of the things you might want to ask could include your therapist’s approach to therapy, their experience addressing the symptoms and struggles you are experiencing, and details about the limits of confidentiality. All of these things (in addition to the connection you feel with your therapist) will be useful in assessing whether they are the right long-term fit for you: “In that first session, you should start to make a connection with that therapist,” says Prinsloo. “It should be a place where you feel safe, accepted and respected. Not every therapist is right for every person, so use that first session to assess whether the therapist you are meeting with feels like a good match for you.”
When you enter therapy for the first time, your personal health goals may not be immediately apparent to you — and that's OK! While you don't need to know everything you want to achieve right away, it is helpful to have a broad idea of what you hope to accomplish in therapy. You may consider jotting some goals down ahead of your session to help you communicate that with your therapist or perhaps leave the floor open for discussion around goals if that feels better to you.
“Preparing for therapy sessions is really a useful habit to get into whether it’s your first session or you’ve been attending therapy for years,” says Prinsloo. Identifying your therapy goals can be a helpful way to help you and your therapist stay on track. “Think about some of the goals that you’d like to achieve. Everyone has their own unique reasons for going to therapy,” says Prinsloo. But don’t get too caught up in having it all figured out. “If you’re not sure what you’d like to achieve in therapy and what your goals are, that can be a goal for therapy in itself.”
Prinsloo suggests trying to get into the habit of building a cushion around your therapy sessions to reflect on your experience and sit with any difficult emotions that may come up. “After your first session, check-in with yourself. Delay turning your phone back on and set an extra 15 minutes aside before getting back into your day,” she says. “That will give you a window to process some of your feelings.”
After that first session, you might want to reflect on your therapeutic relationship, Prinsloo adds. “Ask yourself how you felt your session went and about your connection with your specific therapist. If you don’t feel a therapeutic connection or something just doesn’t feel right to you, the therapy is not likely to be as effective. If you didn’t find a fit, go ahead and try with someone else.”
Often when we seek therapy, we have high expectations for the results we hope to achieve. But it’s important to understand that with therapy, healing doesn’t happen overnight. “Therapy is great and can be extremely beneficial, but there is no such thing as a one session cure,” says Prinsloo. “If you go into your first session and expect it to be a magic pill that solves all your life’s problems, you’re going to be disappointed. Therapy is a process that requires a lot of work from you. It’s not passive, it’s active, and it can take time.”
Setting reasonable expectations for your first session (and even subsequent sessions) will help eliminate any pressure you may be placing on yourself. As humans, we are often told to "trust the process," and in the case of therapy, that sentiment rings true. Getting to the bottom of your mental health concerns requires time and patience. When needed, remind yourself that you are doing the work and slowly working towards a moment when everything begins to fall into place.
Don't forget to take a pause and acknowledge the journey you're on — and do it often! Choosing to reach out to someone for help is not a simple task. It takes time and comes from a place of strength and care to look out for your well-being. As you continue down your path of beginning to feel better, find moments to stop and congratulate yourself for participating in something that will benefit your past, present and future self. Every therapy journey is unique, and it's important to recognize that all of the emotional and perhaps physical energy you're putting into your sessions is something worth celebrating as many times as you see fit.
Regardless of your stage in managing your mental health, don't hesitate to ask questions that will help you set goals and curb your expectations. Doing so will help you (and your therapist) get the most out of your sessions while putting you on the right path for the remainder of your experience.
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