Like most people first starting therapy, you may be wondering what to expect from your first session. Will it be awkward? Intense? Relaxing? The truth is, it can be all of these things.
It’s also normal for these thoughts and questions to cause mixed emotions. Allow yourself to be present for whatever comes up because this is one big first step in the therapy – an ongoing, action-oriented process that can lead you to immense personal growth and healing.
That said, now is also a good time to think not only about what you might receive from therapy but what you will put into it. As with anything else in life, it’s easy to get ahead of ourselves and envision the possible outcomes. However, we determine what we get out of therapy by how we engage in the process.
Here are a few ways to prepare for your first therapy session and maximize your progress, time, and resources from day one:
One week before your first session:
Keep tabs on your most pervasive feelings and thoughts.
Start by monitoring your most pervasive thoughts and feelings in the days leading up to therapy. As nagging as these thoughts can be, they are ironically the ones we fail the most to catch.
You are likely at least partially aware of what’s going on up there; otherwise, therapy might not be in the picture yet. But don’t worry about trying to make sense of it all – therapy will help with that. For now, your only task is to jot a few things down as you go.
The feelings or thoughts that arise or bother you the most will give you a sense of what topics may come up during your first session. If something is particularly troubling you, make a note of it so that you remember to discuss it with your therapist.
Make a list of current changes or issues.
The next thing you can do is make a list of things you want to discuss with your therapist. Feel free to use the list of feelings and thoughts you’ve started to identify any themes, patterns, and areas of concern.
You might also want to reflect on recent life changes or major stressors. These could be contributing to your current emotional state and may be worth discussing in therapy.
Your therapist will want to know what brings you in and your specific goals, but it’s also helpful if you have a sense of the bigger picture. For example, are there certain patterns or behaviors you’d like to change? Do you want to manage stress better or cope with anxiety?
Gaining clarity on what you’d like to work on will help your therapist understand how best to support you. Remembering why you started therapy will keep you focused throughout each session and the overall process.
During your first session:
Be honest with your therapist.
Try your best to be open about what’s going on in your life and how you’re feeling – even if it’s something that you think may make you look bad.
Your therapist is there to help you, not judge you. They are bound by confidentiality and will not share anything you say with anyone else unless you permit them to do so.
Keep an open mind.
Be willing to share things you may not have talked about before and explore new perspectives. Your therapist will likely challenge you in some way, such as seeing yourself or a situation in a different light. This is all part of the process and is meant to help you grow.
After your first therapy session:
Take some time to reflect.
After your first session, take some time to sit with what was discussed and how you felt during the session. Did anything surprise you? Are there any topics you’d like to explore further? What did you think of your therapist?
Give yourself some time, and remember that it may take a few sessions to feel comfortable.
Do your homework.
Between sessions, you may be given some “homework” to do. This could be anything from reading a certain book to practicing a new skill.
These assignments are key to practicing what you’re learning in therapy and making progress. It may seem like extra work, but it’s meant to help you do the real work outside of those therapy walls.
Therapy is a process of change, and change takes time. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results immediately – it takes time and effort to make lasting changes.
Trust the process, be patient, and keep up the good work