Updated: Sep 23, 2020
You called your counselor, scheduled the session, filled out the intake paperwork, and now you're wondering... how do I prepare for the first session? You might be feeling anxious and overwhelmed, wondering where you even start with addressing the concerns that brought you to counseling in the first place. Here are a few tips on how to lessen anxiety and get the most out of your first counseling appointment.
It is completely normal to experience pre-therapy jitters. In therapy you discuss personal and important topics, which can bring up feelings of vulnerability. These first-session nerves are completely normal and nothing to be concerned about. In fact, you might notice that those feelings of anxiety before appointments come up at various points in treatment as you delve further into addressing critical issues. You might also be feeling nervous because you're not sure what you want to talk about that day. Perhaps you're avoiding experiencing unpleasant feelings, which provides you something to discuss, or it's the perfect time to explore what's been going on that's helped you to function lately.
2. Write it down.
If there's a lot you want to talk about, but unsure of how to prioritize importance, write it all down. This way you won't forget all the topics you'd like to bring to your session. Also, if you don't get to discussing everything on your list, you can come back to it next session.
3. Test the waters.
Remember, this is a service and you are hiring someone for the job. You have a right to keep looking if it's not the right fit. Keep in mind, if whether what the therapist said is harmful or actually what you need to hear such as, "He's just not that into you. Consider why you are holding onto this fantasy with him. Is it helping you or hurting you?" Are these comments helping you to increase your self-awareness or is the therapist being intentionally rude and it's time to look for a new one? You're going to a therapist to help you change the patterns that have caused dysfunction in your life, so it is likely they will point out situations you have a hard time facing. If you're unsure why a therapist might say certain things to you, just ask! Ask them how what they told you is going to help you. If it's intentional for the purpose of your personal growth, they should be able to verbalize it.
4. Ask for clarification.
If you're unsure what to expect during your first therapy appointment, empower yourself to ask your therapist. Don't be afraid to voice any concerns or to inquire about the therapeutic process. Typically, the initial session is more information gathering, so the therapist will ask questions in an effort to better understand the client and the client's presenting issues. Later on in therapy, the client and counselor collaboratively work together to make positive changes in the client's behavior and lifestyle.
5. Demystify the process.
A lot of times, clients are under the false pretense that the therapist will immediately expect them to make changes abstaining from unhealthy coping mechanisms or self-sabotaging behavior. This fear might lead you to feeling afraid of judgment or harsh criticism from the therapist. However, therapists are there to hold space for your healing, not to judge you. Therapists are human, just like you, and understand the complexities of our human experiences. Therapists should be respectful and meet their client where they are at. That does not mean they won't be honest with you, such as saying, "Your family member sounds like they are being disrespectful of your boundaries. What do you want out of this relationship with them? Consider how this relationship might not be benefitting you or is a source of stress." But that also doesn't mean they will judge you if you come back next session and still have a relationship with that family member. This just means the therapist respects where their client is at in the stages of change. In fact, it will help the client most if they are open and honest with their therapist regarding relationship patterns or self-sabotaging behaviors, as they are likely to recur and, together the client and counselor can explore these recurrences in a safe, non-judgmental environment.