What to expect in your first session

You did it. You sorted through the profiles of all of the therapists in your area (were there 700 of them, or did it just feel like that?). You found a gap in your schedule, gathered your courage, and made the call. You chatted for awhile, felt a sense of connection, maybe even noticed a seed of hope being planted, and then you scheduled your first appointment. That appointment is coming up this week, and you can feel some nervousness gathering in your gut. What will your therapist be like in person? What will they think when they meet you? Will you be ready to share your biggest challenges in that first appointment?

It’s normal to feel anxious as the first appointment approaches. Beginning therapy can feel daunting. Even those of us who are professional therapists can feel nervous when seeking support for ourselves or loved ones. As your first appointment approaches, here are some important things for you to know:

  • You are in control. Yes, it’s likely that your therapist will ask a lot of questions as they’re getting to know you. They’re trying to understand what brought you to therapy, how they can be most supportive, and what other strategies you’ve already tried to help yourself. Some of these questions might feel personal, and that’s because they are. You’re beginning a relationship that is focused on you, your strengths, and your goals for growth. This is a deeply personal journey, and the things you address in therapy will be, too. However, you always have the ability to choose what you focus on. If there’s a topic you’re not ready to address, share that with your therapist. “I’m not ready to talk about that yet” or “Can we talk about school/work before we jump into family stuff?” are great ways to communicate that something else would feel more helpful. I promise you: Your therapist wants to know what feels hard or overwhelming in the moment. They might still invite you to stretch a little bit, but you are ultimately the driver of your own journey, and that means you can request to chart a new destination or ask to stay in neutral a little bit longer. Of course, that also means that you’re the only one who can press the gas pedal, and you’ll have to be willing to do that a little bit if you want to go somewhere new.
  • Your therapist is an expert, but so are you! It’s true, your therapist is bringing a wealth of professional knowledge to the work you do together. Their education, internships, ongoing training, and work experience have prepared them to support you well. But they literally cannot do it without you. You are the only one who knows your life or your family in the way that you do. You’re the only one who knows what it’s like to wake up in your bed, walk onto your school campus, submit that college or job application, work with your colleagues, be a part of your family, and exist in your life with its unique joys and challenges. The wisdom that you are bringing to the therapy process is precious and invaluable! Only when you and your therapist are collaborating together can you make progress efficiently and effectively.
  • The things you share are private. With a few exceptions, everything you work on in therapy is kept private. Your therapist isn’t talking about you with their friends or family, and can’t even tell someone that you work together if you see each other at the coffee shop. Those exceptions I mentioned? You (or your parent, if you’re not 18 yet) can ask your therapist to share information with certain people. And if there are any concerns about your safety or the safety of others, then the law requires your therapist to notify certain people. If you have questions about this, your therapist can explain it more in detail and provide examples, if needed.

If you notice specific thoughts or worries about starting therapy, talk about these with your therapist. Your therapist can help you understand what’s feeding these thoughts, how you can take care of yourself if they keep coming back, and can also provide information to answer any questions you might have about the therapy process. Congratulations on beginning this journey! 


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