If you’ve decided to start therapy, congratulations on making such a fantastic first step! If you’re still thinking about it, that’s good too. Starting therapy for the first time can be pretty nerve-wracking, especially as you might have no idea what to expect.
To help you prepare, here are some things that’ll typically take place during your first therapy session.
Your therapist will start with some admin
Therapists might send you their paperwork to fill out in advance, but some will ask you to complete it during the session.
Your therapist needs to know information such as your address, your GP, and your next of kin. This information is kept strictly private, and is covered under all relevant data protection laws.
Many therapists use questionnaires to try to understand your current mental state. Some will ask you to complete these in advance, while others prefer to talk them through with you. These are standardised questionnaires, so some questions might not apply to you.
Plus, questionnaires can be useful for you to see how your feelings have changed following therapy too.
Some therapists call this their ‘contract’. Your therapist will talk you through the agreement you make to each other about your sessions, for example how long the sessions are, how often you will meet and their cancellation policies.
They will also explain that your sessions are fully confidential, but that they might have to break that confidentiality if you report a serious risk of harm to yourself or others. It’s important that you understand the limits of confidentiality, but try not to dwell on it too much. It’s extremely rare for most therapists to need to break confidentiality, and they’ll usually try to speak to you beforehand if it does become necessary.
Getting to know each other
Once you’ve sorted any outstanding admin, your therapist will typically want to talk about what you want to achieve from therapy. They may explain that therapy is an ongoing process and that you might feel worse for a while before things start to get better.
If you’re not really sure what you want from therapy, or even what is possible, be honest about that.
Questions you may be asked
The exact questions your therapist asks will depend on lots of factors, like your current circumstances or why you reached out in the first place. Here are some common questions that you might be asked:
- Have you had therapy before?
- How did it work for you?
- What is your home life like?
- Who is your support network?
- How do you look after yourself (self-care)?
- Do you have a history of self-harm?
- Have you ever thought about taking your own life?
The more open you are with your therapist, the more they’ll be able to help you.
Remember that you can ask questions too
Therapy isn’t like going to a doctor, where you’re given a specific treatment. Therapy is about building a trusting relationship between you and your therapist that teaches you to help yourself. Your questions are just as important as your therapists’.
Your therapist will usually ask whether you have any questions, but you should feel free to ask them at any point. Questions you might like to ask include:
- How long have you been working as a therapist?
- Do you have much experience with this kind of problem?
- How will I know that I’ve had “enough” therapy?
- Will you expect me to do anything specific between sessions?
- What would mean that you had to break confidentiality?
You might feel nervous about asking questions, but your therapist wants you to feel comfortable. They’ll happily answer any questions you have, no matter how silly you might feel asking.
You might get emotional (and that’s perfectly normal)
Therapy is a really unusual experience. It might be the first time you’ve been able to talk about certain things that have been bothering you. Even if you don’t get to the root of your problem (and you probably won’t during your first session), you can find that having someone listen to you for that long can feel quite emotional.
Your therapist is there to help you deal with those feelings.
There might be silences
People who are new to therapy often find silence difficult. It’s normal for there to be silences during a therapy session where your therapist is giving you space to understand and explore your feelings.
You’ll talk about how to move forward
Towards the end of the session, your therapist will talk about the next steps. No one is expecting you to trust your therapist implicitly from the very start, but being able to learn to trust your therapist is the most important factor in how successful therapy is for you.
If you think they’re a bad fit, it’s ok to say that. Many therapists will be able to suggest someone else who might suit you better.
We offer a free and confidential discovery call run by therapist Sarah Norman, who can point you in the right direction based on your individual needs.