What To Expect During Your First Therapy Session

By Stephanie Kirby|Updated June 17, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Nervous about the first appointment? If you're scared to talk about personal matters with a therapist, keep reading for tips to help you open up. 

first therapy session - woman staring out a window - BetterHelp online therapy article

Getting Ready For The First Therapy Session

There are many different reasons why people decide to seek help from therapy. There may be traumas from your past that you haven’t healed from, or you may have a current situation that is causing you stress or anxiety. Some people attend because they are experiencing symptoms of depression, and others attend as a means to save their relationship. Regardless of why an individual chooses to seek help from therapy, many wonder what to expect from the first therapy session.

They may be nervous because they’re going into a new situation. A therapist in the first session may help you in the areas you need, even if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. And, to help ease your mind, here are some things that will help you feel prepared for your first therapy session.

First Session Expectations & First Session Tips

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 seek help from therapy. Different therapists may focus on different situations or concerns, use a variety of therapies, and may work with different individuals or groups. When 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 for you.

It’s also important that you find a therapist you feel 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 fresh out of school or someone with decades of experience. That part is completely up to you.

When choosing a therapist, you may also want to compare the prices of therapy 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 it may help to find a therapist that your insurance will cover. Your insurance provider should provide you with a list of services and mental health providers within your area. However, if you don’t have insurance that will cover any of the costs, then you may 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 may end up having too many sessions that don’t result in the improvement that you’re looking for.

woman smiling while looking at her laptop on a video call with her therapist - BetterHelp online therapies article

Questions To Ask At Your First Therapy Session

When looking for a therapist, there may be a few questions that you should think about asking. The answers that you receive to these questions will help you determine what therapist you ultimately 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 for your mental health professionals. Make sure you ask what kind of therapist they are. If they cannot explain it to understand, you may want to look for a different therapist.
  • What kind of training have you had? There are plenty of people out there that are posing as counselors that aren’t formally trained. These people might refer to themselves as “life coaches” or “personal developmental coaches.” While they may have training in some areas, you want to ensure they have the proper training for the help you are looking for.
  • Do you need to have a diagnosis? If you have health insurance that will cover your therapy sessions, you will most likely need 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 for confidentiality, you may want to find a different person to meet with. Make sure you understand their policy states and who they are required to share information with and assign and approve people 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 or have specific concerns, 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 may want to be skeptical of their treatment. An experienced therapist won’t be willing to promise you in advance when you are done with your sessions. They will typically want to become familiar with you and the reason you seek treatment to understand better the treatment you may need.
  • Will I have homework? Many therapists will send you home with work that needs to be accomplished. This work will help you put into practice the things you need to learn to improve your situation.

woman smiling while looking at her phone - BetterHelp online therapies

What To Expect At Your First Therapy Session

The first therapy session is very similar to the first time that you meet someone new. Your therapist will most likely have many questions that you’ll need to answer truthfully to have the best experience and ultimately receive the proper treatment. However, most therapists aren’t necessarily going to dive right into the questions you may find difficult. They may ease you in, getting to know you, and help you to start feeling comfortable speaking with them. This may help to encourage you to open up and eventually move on to more complicated topics.

Depending on the exact setup of the therapist's office, you will most likely need to complete a form with detailed questions that will help the therapist get to know you better and why you are reaching out for therapy at that particular time. Many therapists will look over this information before meeting with you. This information you’ve given may help your therapist understand a little about you and make the best use of the time during the session.

During that first therapy session, the therapist will typically want to understand who you are and what concerns you may have regarding your mental health or personal challenges you may be experiencing. This could include things like what you do for a living, how your physical health is, and what your goals are. They may also discuss how the two of you will proceed with counseling sessions and their plan for future sessions. They may also give you a chance to ask questions as well.

Understanding Counseling Anxiety

If you are attending therapy with the hope of making some quick progress, the first session may leave you feeling frustrated. While you may want answers, you may not necessarily end up with many from the first meeting. The first session tends to be more about setting the stage than diving into the issues that brought you to counseling. However, it’s important not to feel discouraged if you feel disappointed in the initial session. The therapist may need to gather basic information from you during the first session before getting started on your treatment.

As you get further into your therapy sessions, you may start to find that you have more and more breakthroughs with your initial concerns or challenges. If you’ve been attending therapy sessions for several months and aren’t noticing that you have any breakthroughs or improvements in your life, then you may want to make some changes. First, ask yourself if you’ve been doing what your counselor is asking you to do; if so, and you still aren’t making progress, you may want to get a second opinion from a new therapist. 

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Final Thoughts

First Session Conclusion

If you’re considering therapy, you may want to consider if you’d like to see a therapist in person or online. There are some organizations, like BetterHelp, that provide you with options for online counseling options. This may also include access to a therapist through text, phone calls, and email. This can be a great option for people who don’t live near an office with licensed therapists or for those looking to save money and who 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 the day to make it to appointments at the office. Online therapy gives you the freedom to get the treatment you need at your convenience from wherever you have a mobile connection.

The most important thing is finding the solution that works best for you when it comes to therapy and the initial therapy session. If you prefer to meet in person with a therapist, find one in the area that you can build a good relationship with that fits your schedule. If you prefer the convenience that online counseling offers, search for a therapist who will match your needs. Either way, there are many qualified therapists out there who may help you with any mental health concerns you may have.

Remember that you should feel free to ask the therapist questions during the initial counseling appointment and any time after. The main purpose of the therapy appointment 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. 

Don't be afraid to reach out - we are here for you.

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