What to Expect on Your First Day of Therapy

Many people are reluctant about starting therapy or counseling. There are a number of unknowns and reasons that can create this hesitation. Therefore, we thought it would be good to address some common parts of a first therapy session such as the assessment.

Usually, therapists will do an assessment during the first session in an effort to help them get to know the client and to better understand the client’s goals for therapy. This assessment can be different among therapists because every therapist has their preferred way of handling the first session.

Photo Credit: felicianorton Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: felicianorton Flickr via Compfight cc

In a Huffington Post article titled “Going To Therapy For The First Time? Here’s What To Expect,” Jeannie Bertoli, Ph.D., a counselor, was asked about what to expect in the first session. She said, “Some therapists do a first session by getting an assessment of the current problem. Some will do background, so they’ll understand your childhood and any medical issues. Some will just listen and say ‘Uh huh’ a lot, and will be a more passive therapist, and some will really engage with you about what’s going on right now, and get to the depth of it.”

“Assessment” can also be an intimidating word because it sounds similar to taking an exam or test. However, in therapy, an assessment is a set of questions asked by the mental health professional.  It’s a very important part of therapy because it helps the therapist get a well-rounded idea of what’s going on with you. Assessment questions aim to help with many aspects of counseling such as the following:

  1. Reasons why the individual is seeking therapy
  2. Client background or history, including information about the problem (e.g., when did it start)
  3. What goals the client has for the problem

To help address the aims of therapy, here are several common questions that will most likely be asked:

  1. What brings you in today?
  2. What would you say is your main concern?
  3. Have you ever tried therapy before, and if so, what was your experience?
  4. Have you had any recent changes in appetite, energy, or mood lately?

Before going into the first session (or any therapy session), it is important to remember that the client is actually the one in charge, not the mental health professional. In order to get the most out of each session, it is important to speak up and work together with your therapist. Many individuals seeking therapy for the first time do not realize how active their role is or how much talking they might do. Remember, a    therapist or counselor is an objective, professional resource who is not there to judge you or force you to disclose anything that makes you uncomfortable. Bertoli points out in the Huffington Post article that, “You’re the co-creator of this relationship. If you go in saying , ‘Here are my goals, here are my expectations, my preferences for how to proceed, what matters to me the most,’ — if you go in prepared and not looking to take a backseat … you will have the most success.” If you’re feeling nervous before your first therapy session, it can be helpful to make a list of things you want to talk about or review any of the questions above.

Lastly, there is no required “criteria” to see a therapist and you do not have to be in crisis to get help. Therapists are there to help people of all ages live happier, healthier and more productive lives.  You may have to “shop around” for the perfect fit between you and your therapist, but ideally you should find someone who makes you feel comfortable and safe to talk openly about wherever your mind takes you. You cannot fail at therapy and there is no right or wrong way to do it.

Have you ever attended therapy? What was your experience? Do you want to start therapy, but have similar hesitations?  If you have any questions or comments about the subject of today’s post, please let us know in the comment section below!

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Moderator ★

Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: https://sova.pitt.edu/i-need-help-now We look forward to talking to you!

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