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Therapy

How to Prepare for Your First Therapy Session

How to manage feelings of anticipation and make the most out of therapy.

Key points

  • Preparing for your first therapy session beforehand can help manage anxiety.
  • Taking some time to think about your personal goals for therapy can help to establish a strong plan for treatment.
  • Talking to others in your life about therapy can help to alleviate your nerves, identify new goals, and decrease stigma.
  • Be open minded about your new therapist—but if something feels "off" or it's not a good fit, trust your gut.
Sora Shimazaki / Pexels
A moment of self reflection can reduce stress.
Source: Sora Shimazaki / Pexels

After weeks (or maybe years!) of considering therapy, you have finally taken the big step of finding a therapist and scheduling your first session—congrats! But now what?

You might be excited about your appointment, or you might be dreading it. Either way, taking steps to prepare for your first therapy appointment is a great way to manage those feelings and be sure that you will make the most of your time with a clinician. Start with these five.

  1. Do some personal “homework” before your first session. Take a moment alone to ask yourself what you want to accomplish in therapy, and even jot down some basic goals. It's okay if these goals aren't perfectly clear to you—that can also be something you work on with a therapist—but coming in with at least an idea of what you want to work on will help you to be sure therapy is directed at your most relevant goals. If you can, make time to prepare for each of your following sessions by reflecting on your week and thinking about what you most want to discuss in that appointment.
  2. Talk to the people in your life about your upcoming appointment. Sharing with others is a good way to reduce potential feelings of anxiety about therapy, and get support for the important work you are doing to care for yourself. You may be surprised to learn how many other people in your life have seen a therapist before, and they may have their own helpful insights for you. Talking about therapy also helps to decrease stigma towards the treatment of mental health. You can also use these conversations with others to come up with more potential therapy goals for yourself. Often, the people in our lives have important outside perspectives about what it is we might want to address.
  3. Go into your first sessions with an open mind—but also allow yourself to be honest about whether it feels like a good fit. The reality is that every single clinician out there is not necessarily going to be the perfect fit for you. At best, that can mean a waste of your time and money; at worst, it can be potentially traumatizing. On the other hand, it also takes several sessions to establish a comfortable rapport. Thus, it's important to try to assess if any initial discomfort you might feel is due to a true lack of fit or if it's simply due to the "getting to know you" process. Trust your gut if it really doesn't feel right—but don't be afraid to push yourself to sit with some discomfort, especially initially.
  4. Don't worry about knowing what to say during your first session. It is the job of the therapist to lead the conversation and to ask the right questions. You can help the process by having done some personal reflection first, and you can facilitate the creation of your treatment plan by sharing the goals you have for yourself, but your therapist will certainly help you to do this if you have not already.
  5. Be sure to schedule time for yourself after your sessions. If your appointment is at two o’clock, do not schedule an important work call at three. If you can, take time after your appointment and go for a walk outside or get a cup of coffee. Therapy can be emotionally draining, and it's important to give yourself time to process. It is not dissimilar to getting a deep tissue muscle massage—you might feel sore the rest of the day, but over the next week, you'll feel better and better. Be gentle with yourself, allow emotions to surface, and don't judge yourself, regardless of how you need to process.

References

Michael, M. T. (2019). Self-insight. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 100(4), 693–710.

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