Psych Corner: Thinking About Therapy? Here’s How to Prepare for Your First Session

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Maybe you’ve been tossing around the idea of talking to someone about something going on in your life, or maybe something recently happened, like a death in the family, that you’d like to speak to a professional about. There are countless reasons why someone would want to start therapy. You might ask, “Why should I pay money to see a therapist when I can just talk to my friends about this?” Friends are definitely a great source of support, but sometimes, friends have a hard time being objective, and they may not know how to help you. Therapists are great because they are 100% focused on you and what you need. They don’t spend your therapy session talking about themselves or their problems. You are the star of the session. Plus, therapists have gone through extensive training, so they know how to help your specific needs. Another benefit of therapy is that you can talk about anything you want without being afraid of what the other person might think. Therapy sessions are confidential which means that, with a few exceptions, everything you tell the therapist is a secret. The therapist can’t talk about what you discussed in the sessions with anyone.

Maybe you’re not sure what you would talk about if you went to therapy. The answer is, you can talk about anything you need to. Your therapist will gently guide and direct the conversation so that you can focus on what will be the most helpful. You could talk about relationship problems you are having with a family member, significant other, or friend. Maybe you think you might be drinking a little too much and want to see what a professional thinks. You might have been a “worrier” all your life and want to talk to a professional about how to manage your worries. Other things people talk about in therapy include difficulty with school, feeling sad, feeling angry, feeling alone, being unsure what direction to take in your life, or feeling hurt by something someone has done to you (this could be something that happened when you were a child or something more recent). So you can see that there are many reasons why a person might want to talk to a professional, and I’ve only named a few of the reasons.

Whether you are looking for relationship guidance, help with processing something that happened in your past, or some other reason, going to therapy will be beneficial. However, you might be wondering, “How do I even start the process of finding a therapist, scheduling my first session, or even paying for it?” So, here are a few helpful things to keep in mind to make the whole process of setting up therapy a lot smoother.

How to Find a Therapist

You’ve decided you’ll benefit from therapy, but now you need to find the right therapist. Luckily, it’s easier than you think! There are many therapists to choose from and there are a couple of easy ways to find one. Before you start looking for a therapist, there are a few things you should consider and this will make the search process easier. Do you think you will be more comfortable working with a male or female therapist? Everyone has their own preference. Another good question to ask yourself is, “What are you hoping to work on in therapy?” For example, if you are dealing with relationship difficulties, look for a therapist who specializes in relationships. If you are struggling with a substance abuse, look for a therapist who specializes in substance abuse. This way, you know your therapist will be able to specifically help you with your needs. That being said, therapists are trained to work with you on a variety of issues, so if you have any questions about whether your therapist can help with a specific issue, don’t be afraid to ask them.

Once you’ve decided what type of therapist you are looking for, it’s time to start your search. There are several easy ways to find a good therapist. If you are comfortable with asking family and friends, they might be able to recommend someone they’ve heard good things about. Or, if you are in school, you can speak to your school counselor or wellness center for recommendations. Other easy options include conducting a quick Internet search (for example, search “Dallas, TX, therapist, anxiety specialty”) or if you attend a church, sometimes therapists advertise in the church bulletin.

Complete Any Necessary Paperwork

Before your first session, you will probably have to complete what’s called an intake form. Similar to something you would fill out at the doctor’s office, the intake form will ask you about basic information about yourself as well as any symptoms you’ve been experiencing recently. Some therapists will have the intake form available on their website for you to download and fill out before you come to the first session. If you are able to fill the intake form out beforehand, you’ll spend less time on paperwork during your session and more time talking and getting to know your therapist.

Identify Your Goals for Therapy

What do you want out of therapy? It’s helpful to take some time before your first session to think about what you hope to accomplish during your therapy sessions. Having some goals in mind helps your therapist get an idea of how they can help you best! For example, if you are starting therapy to improve your relationship, your goal might be to learn new strategies for improving communication between you and your significant other. If you are going to therapy to help you manage your anxiety, your goal might be learning easy techniques to reduce your anxiety in specific situations (in crowds, at work, etc.). There are many reasons why people go to therapy and just as many goals—and all are important!

Bring a List of Questions for Your Therapist

The final step to preparing for your first therapy session is to bring a list of questions you have for your therapist to your therapy session. You might be wondering how long your therapy will last, if there will be any homework outside of your sessions, if medication is something you should be considering, or what confidentiality means. Writing these questions down before you go will not only help you remember your questions when you meet with your therapist the first time, but also your therapist will really appreciate the time and thought you put into preparing for your first session. No question is irrelevant, so don’t be afraid to ask!

It might seem like there is a lot to do before your first therapy session, but trust me! You will feel that it is all worth it when your session runs smoothly, and you are able to ask all of your questions and discuss your goals with your therapist! Making your first therapy appointment can seem like a scary step to take, but remember you are courageously tackling something in your life that you want to change. And, I’ll let you in on a big secret: for many people, making that first phone call and showing up to your first appointment is the hardest part!

This article is not intended to be a substitute for or serve as professional counseling or treatment. 

Julia

Julia is a Licensed Professional Counselor who is passionate about building and strengthening positive relationships by applying the latest research to everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter at Julia_M_Hogan. (Her articles are not intended to be a substitute for or serve as professional counseling or treatment.)
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