What To Expect During Your First Therapy Session

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Before attending your first therapy session, it's important to find a therapist before you even ask, "How many therapy sessions do I need?" When starting therapy, the appropriate therapist can guide you through the process and assist you negotiate challenging periods when therapy gets hard. You may look for one online or in person, and it can be helpful to ask them questions about their therapeutic approach, credentials, and experience. During your first session, you’ll likely sit down with your therapist and answer a variety of therapy questions about your past experiences, current difficulties, and the reason you’ve decided to seek professional help. Often, treatment doesn’t begin until later sessions. 

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Preparing for the first therapy session

There may be many different reasons why people decide to seek help through counseling. There may be traumas from your past that you haven’t healed from, or you may be experiencing a situation that is causing you stress or anxiety. Some people attend because they are experiencing symptoms of depression, and others attend to save their relationship or work through conflict. Regardless of why an individual chooses to seek help from therapy, many may wonder what to expect from the first session, particularly if they’ve never gotten professional mental health help before.

Those who are new to counseling may be nervous because they’re entering an unfamiliar situation. Your therapist may offer help in areas it’s most needed, even if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. To help ease your mind, here are some things that may help you feel prepared for your first session.

What to expect in therapy

To start therapy, you need to find a therapist first. The key to finding a good match may depend on why you’ve decided to seek help. Different therapists may focus on different situations or concerns, use a variety of therapy approaches, and work with different individuals or groups. When looking for a therapist, it can be helpful to know what you are looking for and why you want help. This can guide you in finding a good match.

It can also be important that you find a therapist you feel comfortable with. You might seek out a therapist who has a background or values that are similar to yours. For instance, if you’re religious, you might want to find a therapist who has the same faith. Or maybe you’re more comfortable speaking to someone of the same gender.

When choosing a therapist, you may also want to compare the prices at different offices. It’s often smart to begin 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 may wish to look for a therapist covered by your insurance. Your insurance provider may provide 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, you may want to start comparing credentials and prices.

Remember that the cheapest option may not always be the best. You generally want to find the proper balance of cost savings and services. Going with the cheapest option may not save you money if it’s not effective. 

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Questions to ask potential therapists

Finding a therapist who is right for you often involves taking time to learn more about the therapist, the types of therapy they may utilize, and their experience addressing concerns similar to the challenges you’re experiencing. You’ll likely also want to work with a therapist with whom you feel comfortable. When looking for a therapist, there may be a few questions that you should think about asking. Any answers that you receive to these questions can help you determine which therapist you ultimately want to work with.

  • What type of therapist are you? Different doctors may specialize in different things, and the same is often true of mental health professionals. 

  • What kind of training have you had? There may be some counselors that aren’t formally trained. These professionals might refer to themselves as “life coaches” or “personal developmental coaches.” While they may have training in some areas, you may want to ensure they have proper training, education, and certifications for the help you are looking for.

  • Do you need to have a diagnosis? If you have health insurance that will cover your sessions, you will most likely need an official diagnosis. This is something that your therapist may be able to discuss with you.

  • Are you experienced in this area? If you know that you are experiencing symptoms of a specific mental health condition or have specific concerns, then you might ask any potential therapists what kind of experience they have in that area and what therapy types they utilize.

  • How many appointments will I need to have? If a therapist can tell you from the start how many sessions you need to have, you may want to be skeptical of their treatment. An experienced therapist generally won’t be willing to specify the number of sessions that will be necessary before they get to know you. They will typically want to become familiar with you and the reasons you’re seeking treatment to better understand the type of help you may need.

  • Will I have homework? Many therapists will send you home with work that needs to be accomplished. This work can help you put into practice the things you need to learn to improve your situation.

What should I say in the first therapy session?

The first session may be very similar to the first time that you meet someone new. You will generally sit on a couch or chair in a personal room with your therapist as you talk. Your therapist will likely have many questions that you may 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, get to know you, and help you grow more comfortable speaking with them. This may encourage you to open up and eventually move on to more difficult topics.

Getting to know each other

Depending on the exact setup of the therapist's office, you will most likely need to complete a form with detailed questions that may help the therapist get to know you and why you are reaching out 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 discuss how the two of you will proceed with counseling sessions and their plan for future sessions. Most therapists give their clients the opportunity to ask questions as well. Additionally, your therapist might connect you with useful resources, such as medically reviewed articles that give you a feel for the types of therapy techniques that will be utilized and help you prepare for your therapeutic experience.

Treatment will not usually begin during the first therapy session. Instead, the first session primarily functions as an opportunity for your therapist to gather all the information they may need to formulate an effective treatment plan for you. Therefore, it can be helpful not to expect to begin healing or learn new coping skills during your first therapy session. You might look at it as more of an interview, and when you come back to therapy for your second, third, and additional sessions, that’s likely when you’ll begin to dive into your therapist’s chosen treatment methods.

Consider multiple therapists

If you are attending therapy with the hope of making 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 can be 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.

Getting a second opinion

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 any breakthroughs or improvements in your life, then you may want to make some changes. First, you might ask yourself if you’ve been doing what your counselor is asking you to do. If you’ve been putting in effort and find that you still aren’t making progress, you may want to get a second opinion from a new therapist. Not every therapist may be the right one for you, and that’s okay. Many people try working with two or more mental health professionals before they find the one they connect with.

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Online therapy 

If you’re considering therapy, you may want to consider whether you’d like to see a therapist in-person or online. Online therapy platforms can be a great option for people who don’t live near an office with licensed therapists or for those looking to save money. Online therapy can also be very convenient if you have a busy schedule, as it can give you the freedom to get the treatment you need at your convenience from wherever you have an internet connection.

In addition to being convenient, research shows that online therapy can be an equally effective form of treatment for a variety of mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, and more, when compared to face-to-face options.

Takeaway

Finding a therapist is usually crucial in order to attend your first therapy session. You might contact your insurance provider to obtain a list of local professionals covered by your policy or get matched with a licensed therapist through an online therapy platform. It can be beneficial to ask potential therapists about their credentials, experience, and therapeutic approaches. Your first session will likely consist of your therapist asking you various questions to get to know you and what you’d like to get out of the therapy process. In most cases, your answers to these questions will enable your therapist to create an effective treatment plan that they’ll put into action during later sessions. If you haven’t experienced any improvement after several sessions, getting a second opinion can be helpful. Please keep in mind that both face-to-face and online therapy options can be effective in treating a variety of mental health concerns.

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The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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