How to Prepare for Your First Therapy Session

Have you thought about seeking individual therapy but are reluctant to make an appointment? Or do you make an appointment but cancel it the next day? You are not alone, and for many, the reason is that you did not know how to prepare for your first therapy session.

Being unprepared can create anxiety and anxiety-related symptoms. To get rid of anxiety, most people will eliminate the cause. For example, you make an appointment with a therapist. In the days before the appointment, your anxiety levels rise and cause discomfort. You cancel the meeting, and the anxiety fades.

Although your anxiety over the appointment disappears, your original problem remains.

The good news is that there are things you can do to ensure you follow through with your first therapy session without anxiety. Below are examples on how to prepare for your first therapy session that will make you feel prepped and ready to resolve your issues.

Before The First Therapy Session

Understanding how to prepare for your first therapy session begins the moment you commit to seeking help. Here are some questions to help you get started:

  • Which therapist is best for me?

Think of picking a therapist like a job interview. You are hiring them to do a job. You want to find a good match, one with experience, education, and the right personality. Don’t rush this decision. Instead, check out online reviews and references, and ask family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Also, don’t be afraid to contact multiple therapists with a list of questions. If their answers match yours, give them a shot.

Create a list of essential therapist characteristics that will make you feel the most comfortable. For example, do you prefer male or female therapists? Do you have preferences for educational background, specialties, age, work experience, cultural background, religion, etc.?

If you meet with a therapist and find you do not “click,” it is okay to keep searching until you find the right one. Therapists understand the importance of being able to build a working relationship and will usually refer you to someone they think will be better for you.

  • What are my reasons for therapy?

Most Americans have multiple issues they want to tackle in therapy. It is impossible to tackle them all in one session. Therefore, you can prepare by prioritizing your issues. Make a list and rank your issues. This will make it easier for you and your therapist to set realistic goals for therapy outcomes.

Document important events in your life that impacted your mental health. Track your emotions in the time before your session. Keep a journal you can share with your therapist. The more information your therapist has, the better they can correctly diagnose you and make appropriate plans for treatment.

  • Can introductions happen before the first session?

Online access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment professionals has increased drastically in the last few years. If it makes you feel more comfortable, request an online or phone meeting before your first therapy session. Although brief, seeing your therapist’s face and having a conversation with them can ease anxiety. It takes away the anticipation of those first few moments. Your first therapy session will feel like your second.

During the First Therapy Session

To prepare for your first therapy session, write down basic questions regarding billing, session length, meeting times, and other expectations, so you don’t forget. It is not unusual to get wrapped up in conversation and leave without answers. Rather than waiting another week, have a list ready to go. You can hand the list to the therapist or ask them yourself. Below are some other things you can do to prepare:

  • Don’t expect to be cured after the first session. It can take weeks or months of meeting with a therapist to overcome some issues. The first session is often a time for helping you understand the therapy process and answering your questions.
  • Be honest with your therapist, who is trained to be nonjudgmental yet empathetic. Therapists have heard and seen almost everything, so don’t be afraid to be open, even with your emotions.
  • Expect questions. During the first session, your therapist will likely ask direct questions about your background. They may even conduct an evaluation to help create your treatment plan. Your therapist may also explain confidentiality, treatment methods, expectations, and how they determine progress.
  • Ask for homework assignments. Therapy assignments are not like academic assignments. You are not graded, and you won’t get in trouble if you miss one. Therapeutic homework helps you work on yourself and your issues outside the therapy session. Doing so may result in reaching goals earlier than expected.
  • Pay attention to your gut instincts. If you are not connecting with the therapist or get bad vibes, it’s okay. You have options. You can attend a second session to see if your instincts are different, or you can seek a new therapist. Do not feel obligated to stay with a therapist.

If you don’t want to meet with your therapist alone for the first session, take someone you trust. Therapists understand and welcome family or friends in the first session. Your loved one may be able to offer insight or their perspective on how therapy can help. Avoid taking someone with whom you have an unhealthy relationship.

After the First Therapy Session

Preparation for your first therapy session continues after you leave the therapist’s office. It will benefit you and your therapist if you take the time to journal about your first therapy session experience.

Write about what you like or dislike, if it met your expectations, and whether you have additional questions. Also, note how you feel about your therapist and if you want to continue working with them.

Finally, make a note of how you felt after the session. Therapists aim to help you feel better at the end of a session than you did at the beginning. You should feel hopeful that things will get better. And they will get better.