Taking the step to reach out to a therapist is a huge leap and often involves a lot of research, emailing, and discussion. Deciding that it is time to connect with a therapist is scary and can make someone pretty vulnerable. There are so many options out there for therapy and so many different therapists to choose from, how do you know which one will be right for you? This is a common question that goes through someone's mind as they begin their therapeutic journey and can sometimes cause a lot of anxiety and worry as you prepare for your first appointment. I'm here today to give you some information and advice (from the therapists perspective) on what you should know about your first counselling session!
1. Communicate any questions to your therapist before you attend the session. When we're dealing with anxiety, its natural to become hyper-focused on the little details that we may have missed or forgotten to ask before attending the appointment. It's important to ask your therapist if there is any documentation you should bring (i.e. insurance information for direct billing, credit card for your file, any forms that need to be filled out before your first session, etc.). This helps to reduce any anxiety prior and during your first appointment, and ensures that all the little details are sorted out for an effortless transition.
2. Be prepared to complete some paperwork at the very beginning of your session. Clients who come to my practice for the first time are required to fill out 3 forms: New Client Questionnaire, Confidentiality, and Credit Card Authorization forms. These forms are important in the therapeutic relationship for a number of reasons. Primarily, it lets you, the client, understand the processes and procedures of the therapists practice and their legal and ethical obligations surrounding how they run their business. It will also give you the very important information about certain policies that may be in place and where/how your information will be stored and kept. Secondly, these forms help the therapist get to know you a little bit better and understand any basic concerns you are having right off the bat. Having a questionnaire is a really helpful way for the therapist to get the required information about you and why you are seeking counselling. This is in place so that they can offer you the best service possible and ensure that your needs are looked after.
3. Be prepared to do a lot of the talking and asked a lot of questions. The first session is an opportunity for the therapist to get to know you and what brought you to their office. They may ask you questions such as "what brought you in today?" or "what are some concerns you would like to address?" It's important to be as open and honest as you can be in this first session. Remember, it's as much of a learning opportunity for the therapist as it might be for you. It is your time to get to know one another, and determine if you can work together to tackle the concerns that initially brought you to them. Also, the therapist will be asking you many questions to get a greater understanding of what recommendations they can provide to you and perhaps develop a treatment plan that is specific and unique to your needs. By asking questions, they can help to formulate an idea of how they can best help and direct you in your therapeutic journey. In addition, asking questions is a way to get a conversation going. Sometimes a client is nervous at their first session, so asking open questions helps to "break the ice" and make the client feel more comfortable. It's also important that you ask your therapist some questions as well. Some potential questions could include what their credentials are, where they took their training, what their specialty is in, what they can provide to you to ensure your needs are met, what their policies and procedures are, and maybe how often you should come for a session. These questions can also be asked before your appointment, to ensure the therapist is the right fit for you.
4. You may have a lot to say or you may feel a little uncomfortable at first, but it takes time to build the relationship, so be patient and open to new experiences. The counselling relationship is similar to most relationships in that it takes time to get to know one another on the level required to be transparent, vulnerable, and open to change. Remember, the reason you came to counselling initially was to either improve aspects of yourself, become a stronger version of yourself, or get clarity on an issue of importance. Regardless of what brought you to therapy, it's important that you feel comfortable with the therapist you are working with. In the first session, I usually let my clients know that the relationship we build takes time to grow and the comfort to disclose your personal information will also come with time. It's natural for some to feel comfortable right away, but it is also natural to feel reserved and guarded. Either way, be patient with yourself and the process ahead. You are taking steps in the right direction, and often those steps are harder than they would be if you did nothing at all.
5. Get comfy! Wear comfortable clothes, bring yourself a beverage of your choice, and take advantage of the comfortable space that your therapist has provided (at least a comfy space is what I try to provide for my clients!) A therapists office should be warm, cozy, and inviting. It should make you feel at home! When we feel comfortable, the ability to "dig deep" and talk about some hard topics can be made a little bit easier and less stressful.
6. At the end of the session, your therapist may ask you if you'd like to book your next appointment. Before booking your next session, you must feel comfortable and confident that counselling is something you want to pursue. Also, I always encourage first time clients to take a few moments after the session to reflect on their experience. It's important that you do not feel pressured or felt as though you have to reschedule your next appointment right away. So take all the time you need and ask your therapist if you can contact them to reschedule once you've had some time to reflect.
Your first sessions can feel scary and unknown, there is a lot to be expected. Enjoy your time and view it as an opportunity to tackle some hard questions you've been putting off, and addressing some concerns that have been weighing you down. The journey you will take will bring you enlightenment, joy, and a fresh new perspective. Be open to the opportunity and possibility for growth, it's a beautiful experience!