If you’ve gotten this far in the series and you’ve landed on this post, that means you’re ready to take the next step to a Well You! I celebrate you on this new journey!
Engaging in therapy can be a gratifying, yet, emotional journey. The process of starting therapy or counseling can produce a mix of emotions. These emotions could stem from the thought of telling a stranger things you’ve probably never discussed with anyone else or you may think that talking about things may bring up other issues that you thought you neatly swept under the rug and would never need to address again.
It’s normal to feel anxious or scared before your first appointment.
I can recall the moments leading up to my first therapy appointment. Weeks prior, I was so excited to try something new to work through challenges I faced at that time. I figured: “I got this! After all, I’m a therapist too so I know what to expect.” Honey! As I sat in my car waiting at the light across the street from my new therapist’s office, the unexpected tears that began to fall overpowered me. Reflecting back, I think it was the vulnerable position I was placing myself in that got to me. As cliche as it may sound, I felt lighter after my first session. I felt like I began to put down some of the baggage I was struggling to carry on my own. I recognize that everyone’s first therapy session may not yield the same feelings or the same results, so I’m going to cover a bit of what to expect at your first therapy session in hopes that some of your anxiety can be reduced.
Treatment doesn’t necessarily begin on your first session.
This first session can be seen more as an information gathering meeting and can be filled with tons of questions. Your therapist or counselor will have likely either asked that you complete intake paperwork before your first session or you can expect that your therapist may ask you to arrive earlier to your first session to complete intake paperwork. This will be beneficial in helping the therapist gather some information about what your current challenges are, historical information that may have an affect on your current challenges, and how long you’ve been experiencing these symptoms in order to develop ways to work together with you to overcome your current challenge. They are collecting information that will be helpful in either coming up with a mental health diagnosis and/ or treatment plan.
Your therapist may or may not diagnose you at your first session.
It’s important to note that most providers who accept insurance have to provide your insurance company with a mental health diagnosis in order to bill. The idea of carrying a mental health diagnosis can come with stigma, but your therapist will work with you through the issues you bring at hand, using precaution to avoid labeling you. The focus of treatment will likely be the treatment of the symptoms, not the diagnosis as a whole. If your therapist provides you with a diagnosis, feel free to ask the provider to cover the criteria of this diagnosis so that you have a clear understanding. Not all problems have a diagnosis, so talk with your provider about what treatment will look like with the information you present to them.
You may have to go on a few therapy “dates.”
Don’t expect to click with the first therapist you see or click with your therapist at the first session. After all, this is likely your first experience with therapy and after time you’ll begin to learn what works for you and what you need in a therapist, so feel free to ask your therapist questions as far as what to expect during this process. If after time you’re just not clicking with your therapist, I encourage you to shop around for others. This is your journey.
Your therapist is a mandated reporter not a “snitch.”
So that there are no surprises, a mandated reporter is an individual, who by law, has the duty to report to the proper officials if they have concerns that you may harm yourself, someone else, or a minor or a dependent adult. If you also mention to them that someone you know is harming a minor or a dependent adult, expect that this has to be reported as their ethical responsibility is to keep you and your community safe.
Therapy is not a quick fix. And your therapist won’t tell you what to do.
Many people begin seeing a therapist to simply get advice or because they feel like they aren’t doing anything right to address their problems and want a professional to tell them EXACTLY what to do. The process of therapy is a collaborative and ongoing one. Your therapist works with you to uncover the root of your issues, and works together with you to discover new ways of thinking and coping. There isn’t a quick fix to complicated problems. At times you’ll feel like you aren’t getting anywhere or you may feel worse off than when you started, but eventually you’ll develop new ways of thinking and coping that will help you address your current challenges. Engaging in mental health treatment encourages us to uncover the root of our core issues which may require you to break out those shovels and dig deep to pull out things you deeply buried in the past.
Everyone’s experience with mental health treatment is unique. Please feel free to reach out to me if I can be of support and answer any additional questions for you before your first therapist appointment. I encourage you to also bring these questions up to your therapist either before your first session or during the first session. Once again, I commend you on your courage to begin therapy and I wish you well on this journey!
Featured Image Credit: “She’s Gotta Have It.”