What To Expect During Your Therapy Session

By: Stephanie Kirby

Updated September 21, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Nervous about the first therapy appointment? It can be intimidating to talk about personal matters with a stranger. A therapist is there to help through that anxiety.

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There are many different reasons why people decide to give therapy a try. It could be that you have things in your past that you haven’t healed from or that you have a current situation that is causing you stress and anxiety. Some people attend because they are depressed and desperate for help, and others attend as a last-ditch effort to save their relationship. But, regardless of why they decide to go, many wonder what to expect from the first therapy session.
They may be nervous because they’re going into a new situation. They can help you in the areas that you need, even if you don’t know exactly what it is you’re looking for. And, to help ease your mind, here are some things that will help you as you work towards that first therapy session.

Preparing For Your First Therapy Session

To start therapy, you first need to find a therapist. The key to finding the right therapist is going to depend on why you’ve decided to give counseling a try. Different therapists focus on different situations and working with different individuals or groups. When you are looking for a therapist, it’s important to know what you are looking for and why you want help. This will guide you in finding the right type of therapist.

It’s also important that you find a therapist you are comfortable with. If you’re a woman, you might be more comfortable talking to another woman and vice versa, but this isn’t always the case. You may prefer to speak with someone that is fresh out of school or someone that has decades of experience. That part is completely up to you.

You will also want to compare the prices of counseling at different offices. Start by checking with your insurance company to see if they cover mental health services such as meeting with a licensed therapist. If they do, then you want to make sure to find a therapist that will be covered by your insurance. Your insurance provider should be able to provide you with a list of services within your area. However, if you don’t have insurance that will cover any of the costs, then you’ll want to start looking and comparing credentials and prices.

Remember that the cheapest option isn’t always the best. You want to find the proper balance of cost savings and services. Going with the cheapest option isn’t saving you money if it’s not also helping you out. You’ll end up having too many sessions that don’t result in the improvement that you’re looking for.

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Questions To Ask The Therapist

When looking for a therapist, there are a few questions that you should think about asking. The answers that you receive to these questions will help you determine what therapist you want to work with. Some questions you should consider asking include:

  • What type of therapist are you? Different doctors specialize in different things, and it’s no different when it comes to your mental health professionals. Make sure you ask what kind of therapist they are. If they are unable to explain it in a way that you can understand then keep looking for a different therapist.
  • What kind of training have you had? There are plenty of people out there that are posing themselves as counselors that aren’t formally trained. These people might refer to themselves as things like “life coaches” or “personal developmental coaches.” While they may have training in some areas, you want to make sure they have the proper training for the help that you are looking for.
  • Do you need to have a diagnosis? If you have health insurance that is going to be covering your therapy sessions, then you will most likely need to have an official diagnosis. This is something that your therapist will be able to discuss with you.
  • What is your policy on confidentiality – If your therapist doesn’t have a policy in place for confidentiality then you will want to find a different person to meet with. Make sure you understand what their policy states and who they are required to share information with and if you can assign and approve people that they can share information with.
  • Are you experienced in this area? If you know that you are experiencing the symptoms of a specific mental health condition, then ask any potential therapists what kind of experience they have in that area.
  • How many appointments will I need to have? If a therapist can tell you from the start how many sessions you need to have then, you need to find a new therapist. An experienced therapist won’t be willing to promise you in advance when you’ll be done with your sessions. They will want to become familiar with you and the reason you are seeking treatment.
  • Will I have homework? Many therapists will send you home with work that needs to be accomplished. This work will help you to put into practice the things that you need to learn to improve your situation.

What To Expect At Your First Session

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The first therapy session is very similar to the first time that you meet anyone else. They have a lot of questions for you that you’ll need to answer truthfully to have the best experience. But most therapists aren’t going to dive right into the tough questions. They’ll ease you in and help you to start feeling comfortable. This helps to encourage people to take down their guard and move on to more complicated topics.

Depending on the exact setup of the office, you will most likely need to complete a form with questions that will help the therapist to get to know you and why you are reaching out for counseling. Many therapists will look over this information before meeting with you. This helps them to understand a little about you and make the best use of the time during your session.

During that first therapy session, the therapist is going to want to get a good understanding of who you are. This could include things like what you do for a living, how your physical health is, and what your goals are. They will also discuss with you how the two of you will proceed with counseling sessions and what their plan is. They will also give you a chance to ask questions as well.

Why The First Session Can Be Frustrating

If you are attending therapy with the hope of making some quick progress, the first session can leave you feeling frustrated. While you want answers, you aren’t going to end up with many from your first meeting. It’s more about setting the stage than diving into the issues that brought you to counseling. But, don’t quit on the process because you are disappointed in the first session, the therapist must gather this type of information from you to get started.

As you get further into your therapy sessions, you should start to find that you have more and more breakthroughs. If you’ve been attending therapy sessions for several months and aren’t noticing that you have any breakthroughs or improvement in your life, then something needs to change. First, ask yourself if you’ve been doing the things that your counselor is asking you to do, if so, and you still aren’t making progress, you might want to try finding a new therapist.

Online Counseling Vs. In-Person Counseling

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Therapy Session Conclusion

Not all counseling is done in person. There are some organizations, like BetterHelp, that provide you with options for online counseling options. This could also include access to a therapist through text, phone calls, and email. This can be a great option for people that don’t live near an office with licensed therapists or ones that are looking to save money and don’t have another more affordable option. It’s also very convenient if you have a busy schedule and have a hard time taking the time out of your day to make it to appointments.

When it comes to therapy and your first therapy session, the most important thing is that you find the solution that works best for you. If you prefer to meet in person with a therapist, find one in your area that you can build a good relationship with. If you would prefer the convenience that online counseling offers, search for a therapist that will match your needs. Either way, there are many qualified therapists out there who would love to help you.

Remember, that during your first therapy session, and any time after, you should feel free to ask your therapist questions. The whole point of the session is to help you. If you want to know why they are having you do a certain thing or why you aren’t trying something else all you have to do is ask. 

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