What to Expect When You’re Expecting (To Attend Your First Therapy Session)
As a psychologist, I have the privilege of walking alongside individuals as they seek relief from their distress. It has been awe inspiring to see people use therapy to impact change in their lives. Make no mistake, this change involves hard work - hard and worthwhile work. The help of a mental health professional, can be someone who supports this work.
Reaching out for support is difficult. We often struggle to confide in friends or family, never mind meet with a stranger to discuss our thoughts and feelings. Therapy holds a lot of unknowns for people who have never had any interaction with the field of mental health. I want to clarify what to expect from a first appointment with a psychologist. Of course, the minutia of this will vary between psychologists, but I will provide information to ease some of the uncertainty.
The initial session with a psychologist is about understanding the client and their needs. The point is to make sure the psychologist and client are the right fit for treatment. The psychologist wants to gain an understanding of what is bringing you to therapy, your current symptoms and your background history. If a psychologist believes you are better suited to a different course of treatment, they will connect you to a treatment provider who specializes in your needs.
This appointment is also an opportunity for you to assess how comfortable you feel with a psychologist. Research shows, rapport between client and psychologist is a significant factor in treatment success. The therapeutic relationship is like any relationship – sometimes it’s a match and sometimes it’s a swing and a miss. If you do not feel the psychologist is the right fit for you, then try and connect with someone else. This being said, it also takes time to build comfort so if you feel your relationship can grow, give it some time.
If you and the psychologist determine you are the right fit, then you can spend time identifying what your treatment goals are. You should feel free to ask questions. Some things to think about asking are: their qualifications and experience, the possible treatment plan, and the psychologist’s treatment style. If you do not understand something, don’t be shy, ask them to clarify! Your active participation in treatment is key to success, and this starts in the first session.
It is important to note, you are free to leave treatment at any time. You do not have to commit to a course of treatment or particular psychologist. Making a commitment to therapy can feel daunting and overwhelming. If these feelings come up for you, remember: you are committing to an initial appointment and then decide about the next!