What to Expect During Your First Therapy Session

For someone who might not be used to sharing their problems with strangers, the first meeting with a therapist can be quite daunting. I remember my first therapy session was definitely intimidating. I had all sorts of thoughts going through my head about what to expect. I thought the therapist was going to judge me and after months of debilitating panic attacks I thought I was going crazy. My worries were unfounded. During my first session, the therapist and I just spent time getting to know each other. I also walked away with a few tools to help me start getting the anxiety under control.

Here are some things to expect for your first therapy session:

Why are you there?

During your first session, your therapist will ask what brings you to counseling. It’s helpful if you can write down some things beforehand to pinpoint what isn’t working in your life in the current moment. While some people may know exactly what the problem is, for others it’s not so easy. I had no idea what was causing my anxiety and panic attacks when I showed up to my first session. It took several more meetings to discover what had actually triggered me.

What is your background and current life like?

It’s helpful for your therapist to learn a little bit about your background. You don’t have to tell your whole life story during the first session (and there probably won’t be time if you’ve already lived a few decades), but if you come from an alcoholic, abusive background your therapist should know that. Likewise, if you’ve recently gone through a divorce or changed jobs, even if that might not the main reason you are there, it’s helpful for the therapist to know these things.

Are you experiencing any symptoms?

Your therapist will ask you during your first session if you are experiencing any current symptoms. This helps to target things to work on, as well as the possibility of needing medications.

How is your sleep? Are you able to enjoy activities that usually give you pleasure? Are you more fearful than usual?

With a checklist, your therapist can determine if you are experiencing anxiety, depression, or other issues.

Don’t let this scare you. Not everyone has a diagnosis and if there is one, it can be a blessing in disguise. Getting referred to a doctor and starting medications can be life changing.

There doesn’t have to be a crisis to see a therapist

One thing to remember is that your life doesn’t have to be in crisis to see a therapist. You may have a great life, but just need some help dealing with a difficult relationship or a hard challenge at work.

 Ask questions

 Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your therapist is a person just like you.

And, if you don’t like your therapist it’s ok to move on to another. I do encourage giving the therapist a second chance if the first meeting doesn’t go well. When I first met my current therapist, I didn’t care for her at all. However, the more I got to know her, I found out she was a deeply caring individual and very good at what she does.

 A personal confidante

 One great thing about having a therapist is that she is your confidante. Unlike some friends or family members, you don’t have to worry about your therapist telling other people your business. She’s not allowed. Unless what you tell her will endanger your life or the lives of others, you can be assured  what you say will not leave her office.

 It’s a process

The last thing to remember is that therapy is a process. All your life problems will not be solved in one hour. Commit to that process and slowly you will start noticing your life changing for the better.

Paula Bostrom has written for the International Bipolar Association and Tiny Buddha among other websites and publications.