Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
8 Ways to Prepare for Your First Therapy Session
Published May 7th, 2021 & updated on Jun 23rd, 2022
You’ve done it! You’ve booked your first therapy session! But now you don’t know what to do next. You’ve never been to therapy before so you don’t totally know what to expect.
You’re probably feeling a whirlwind of emotions right now. Maybe you’re super nervous but also really excited at the same time! Those butterflies in your stomach are taking flight! Or, maybe you feel mad (or scared) if someone like a parent or guardian is making you attend therapy. It’s also okay and totally normal if you feel like you’ve failed because you’re seeking professional help for the first time (btw you defs have not failed…EVERYONE needs help at times). However you feel is totally and completely valid! Just know that you’re strong as hell for taking these first steps towards helping your sweet baby brain!
And, don’t worry. You don’t have to go to your appointment feeling this unsure about what happens when you speak to your therapist for the first time. Because we’re here to help you prepare for your first therapy session!
1. Think About What to Bring
This is the easiest bit and you don’t really need to bring much, to be honest! Just yourself, your insurance (if applicable), and your form of payment. You might want to bring some water too because you’ll be doing a lot of talking! If you’re really nervous, you can bring a friend to come and wait with you in the waiting room. They might not be able to come in with you, but they can be there to support you until your session begins, and after the session ends.
2. Think About Your Goals
When it comes to therapy, you might think “Well, I just wanna make my brain feel better.” And that’s a totally awesome goal (we have the same one), but see if you can set some more specific goals like: “I want to feel less uncomfortable being in public,” “I want to find a coping mechanism that helps me manage my anxiety,” “I want to improve my self-care,” or “I want to manage my anxiety, especially at night so I can sleep better.”
You can then share these with your therapist at your first appointment. From smaller goals to big picture goals, the more they know about what you want to achieve in your sessions, the better they can help you!
If you aren’t sure what your goals are, here are some journaling prompts to help you figure that out:
- How do you want to feel when you’re finished with therapy?
- If your brain could talk, it would need…
- If your body could talk, it would need…
- I want my life to look like ___ when I complete therapy.
This should help ease some of that first therapy session anxiety. Bring your little notepad with you if that’s helpful while you’re discussing your goals!
3. Think About What Will (and Won’t) Work for You
If you’ve been to therapy before, you might’ve practiced coping techniques that didn’t work for you. Or, maybe mindfulness isn’t your thing. Maybe talk therapy just isn’t your jam. Think about what you want your sessions to look like so that you can work together with your therapist to find something that checks all your mental health boxes!
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want from your therapist. If something isn’t working, tell them. If you want to pivot and tackle a different problem you’re facing, let them know.
4. Prepare for Lots of Questions
This first appointment will be like a “get to know you” kind of thing. They’ll want to know about your mental health, your family history, and get a reallyyyy good understanding of how you’re feeling. All of this (and SO much more) will help them know what kind of treatment and approach they’ll need to take to help you. Your therapist will be there to help, not judge. Keep this in mind when you’re talking to your therapist and they begin asking you questions that might make you feel a bit uncomfortable. It does take time to build trust between you and your therapist, but know that from day 1, they’re in your corner!
5. Prepare for Honesty
Mentally prep yourself for some super honest convos and tons of questions. If the therapist you meet is bad at interrupting you, you’ll need to tell them. And they’ll WANT you to! This feedback is really important, especially as you’re getting to know each other. There are also some situations where your therapist might do something intentionally to see how you respond, or to evoke an emotion that you have a hard time expressing. The same thing is to be said if they are scribbling down a ton of notes while you talk, or if they seem to be asking weird questions that aren’t related to what you’re talking about. Be honest as you answer them! And if they’re a good therapist, they’ll happily adjust to your needs if an exercise isn’t working for you (or explain their intentions)!
6. Prepare for Full-Body Feels
It’s suuuper normal for people to feel anxious, or on alert, before a therapy session! It’s 100% normal to be nervous about opening up to someone totally new. And, it can be scary knowing that you might have to face some uncomfortable emotions. And, after the session, you might feel exhausted. You’ll have just dug into a lot of stuff that you might have never looked at in your brain before! Therapy hangovers are super real and super common.
So, try to work around this by scheduling your therapy for days when you’re not working (or have your therapy in the evenings). Rushing immediately to a meeting, or class, after you’ve had a really raw session might not be the best feeling in the world.
7. Prepare to Be Patient
Therapy can be wonderful and transformative! But those magical moments don’t happen overnight, and you likely won’t walk away from your first therapy session feeling like a totally different person. We WISH that was the case. But therapy takes time…so be prepared to take things slowwwww.
And, things might feel worse before they get better. You know how your house always looks like a mess when you start to clean it up and de-clutter? Well, that might happen with your brain. It’s gonna feel messy for a while and that’s okay! (And TOTALLY normal!) So, try not to be too discouraged — or judge the quality of your sessions — after the first few appointments. And think ahead of time about how you want to treat yourself after those sessions. Some self-care (whether that means leaving time in your calendar for a post-session day-long TV binge, or pre-booking some spa treatments) will definitely be in order!
8. Prepare to Ask Your Therapist Questions Too
The first few sessions are also suuuuper important to figure out if this is the right therapist fit for YOU. How do you do that? Ask them questions! All. The. Questions. And keep in mind that it’s SO okay if you don’t vibe with the first person you see.
- What is your area of expertise or your specialty?
- What methodologies or approaches to treatment do you typically use?
- Are you now or have you ever been in therapy?
- Have you ever worked with people that went through similar issues to mine?
- Do you offer support in between sessions?
- Do you assign homework in between sessions?
- How will we evaluate my progress?
- Do you have different payment structures available if we move forward with sessions? (sliding scale/fixed cost/subsidized through the government)
It might take some time to choose the right therapist but if you’re not feeling the match, don’t get discouraged. Going to this first session is still a big win! What you’ve done is taken a great first step, and now you can look for someone who is better suited to fit your needs. It can be a process, but it’s SO WORTH IT. (And sometimes you do luck out on the first try!)
So…there you have it! We hope that your very first therapy session is everything you need and more, and that we’ve helped to calm some of your nerves. We know you’re going to go out there and totally crush it! Watch out anxiety! Watch out depression! Watch out other mental health probs! You’re about to be therapized!