What to Expect in Your First Therapy Session

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on April 29, 2023
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Seeking professional help for your mental health can be intimidating, but it can also be the first step towards better mental health and a happier life.

If you’re considering starting therapy now, you may be wondering what to expect – particularly if you’ve never been to a therapy session before.

Our team at Online Mental Health Reviews is passionate about therapy, and answering any questions you have about mental health so you can feel confident moving forward and taking responsibility for your mind and life purpose.

While your first therapy session is just one step on your journey, it’s arguably the most important step!

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through what to expect in your first therapy session and also in your next session, so you can feel comfortable and prepared.

About Your First Session

The first session is an opportunity for you to get to know your therapist and for them to understand your reasons for seeking therapy.

During this session, you’ll likely discuss your mental health history, current concerns, and goals for therapy. Some therapists may also ask for information about your family and other relationships, as these can impact your mental health.

Your first therapist’s office may ask you questions to help them better understand your situation, and you may be asked to fill out some paperwork or questionnaires. This is all part of the process of developing a therapy plan that’s tailored to your needs.

First Therapy Session Example Video

Case study clinical example CBT: First session with a client with symptoms of depression (CBT model)

It’s normal to feel nervous or vulnerable during your first therapy session, for example, but it’s important to remember that therapy is a safe and confidential space.

Your therapist is there to listen and support you, not to judge or criticize you. It’s okay to take your time and share as much or as little as you’re comfortable with.

Depending on your therapist’s approach, your first session may involve some goal-setting and planning for future group sessions together. In the video above, the therapist provides a welcoming presence and starts the conversation in a safe way.

You may also be given some homework or exercises to do between sessions, such as journaling or practicing mindfulness.

Getting Ready For The First Therapy Session

byu/coatofarmour from discussion

If you’re preparing for your first therapy session, it can be helpful to make a list of what you want to discuss during the session. Bringing the list with you can help you stay organized and focused.

Take some time before the session to think about your personal goals and what you hope to achieve through therapy.

It’s important to find a therapist who you feel comfortable with and who is a good match for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and communicate your goals to your therapist.

Remember to come to your first therapy sessions with an open mind, be honest with your therapist, and complete any homework assigned to you.

Taking these steps can help you prepare for your first therapy session and get the most out of your therapy experience.

What To Expect During Your First Session

Your first therapy session may seem daunting, but it is important to remember that it is a safe and confidential space where you can share your feelings and concerns.

Ultimately, therapy is about learning to talk about, and feel things, that previously felt scary and to make them feel safe. Then you can have better mental health 🙂

  1. During your first session with an experienced therapist, your therapist will likely ask you questions about your history and background, as well as your present concerns. This will help them understand your unique situation and how to best support you.
  2. Additionally, you can expect to fill out some paperwork and answer basic questions, primarily about your medical history and previous therapy experiences.
  3. Remember, therapy is a journey that requires commitment and trust between you and your therapist, to begin with. It may take time to feel completely comfortable with your therapist, but trust the process and be open to the possibilities of growth and healing.

If you have any concerns or questions about your first therapy session, don’t hesitate to ask your therapist. They are there to support you and help you navigate this new experience.

A Timeline of Your First Therapy Session

Generally, the first session is all about getting to know your therapist and building a relationship with them.

  • You’ll likely do some paperwork, including intake forms, and your therapist may ask questions about your background and current circumstances.
  • Depending on the therapist, you may spend the first 30 minutes to an hour just exploring your concerns and discussing how to proceed with treatment.
  • Remember that therapists are experienced in working with individuals who are struggling with mental health, and they understand that it can be difficult to open up.
  • It’s okay to take things slow and communicate your concerns with your therapist.

Good luck!

Questions To Ask Potential Therapists

Asking potential therapists questions can help you determine compatibility and ensure that you receive the care that you need. There are several lists of questions to ask potential therapists available online, and here’s our take:

  • What is your availability, and how long will my treatment take? It’s important to know what the expected timeline is for treatment, and whether the therapist’s availability is compatible with your schedule and needs.
  • What are your fees, and do you have a sliding fee scale? Understanding the cost and fees associated with therapy is crucial, and it’s essential to know if there are options for reducing costs if needed.
  • How do you protect client confidentiality? Understanding how your confidentiality and privacy will be protected is important to feel safe and secure in the therapy session.
  • How do you handle emergencies or missed appointments? Emergencies can happen, and it’s essential to understand how the therapist will handle situations where immediate support is needed or if a session is missed.
  • Can you provide references or patient testimonials? Hearing from past patients can provide valuable insights into the therapist’s approach and effectiveness in treating specific issues.
  • What do you specifically think we should work on together in therapy? Understanding the therapist’s perspective on your treatment can give you insight into whether their approach is a good fit for you.
  • What is your policy on ending therapy? It’s essential to know what the therapist’s approach is to ending therapy, both financially and logistically, so that you can prepare and plan accordingly.

What Therapists Have to Say About Attending Your First Therapy Session

If you’re attending your first therapy session, it’s natural to feel unsure or nervous. Fortunately, therapists have a lot of experience with first sessions and can provide guidance and support.

  1. Many therapists encourage their clients to take their time and share at their own pace, as the ultimate goal is to provide a safe and non-judgmental space for clients to express themselves.
  2. You may be asked some questions about your mental health history, current struggles such as depression or anxiety, history of mental health medication, and other aspects of your life. But you don’t have to reveal everything all at once.
  3. Remember, the first therapy session is just the beginning of a longer therapy process. By taking things slowly and being open-minded, you may find that your first therapy session represents the first step on your healing journey

Checking Your Therapist’s Credentials

If you’re looking to check your therapist’s credentials, it’s important to follow the right steps to ensure you’re seeking help from a qualified professional.

  • The easiest way to verify a therapist’s license is to check online by using an online search form or contacting someone at a licensing board to request a license verification.
  • You can also check your health insurance or government/therapy/counseling/psychology association pages or visit your state’s licensing board online lookup tool website to learn if a therapist is licensed to practice online in your state
  • Remember, it’s important to make sure your therapist is qualified and licensed to provide the care you need, especially if you’re looking for insurance coverage.

Online Therapy Can Be An Alternative To In-Person Therapy

If you are struggling with your mental health and are considering therapy, you might be interested in online therapy as an alternative to in-person therapy.

Research shows that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy for various mental health conditions1.

Teletherapy, or online therapy, is also a more convenient and accessible option for those who may not have access to in-person therapy or prefer to receive care from the comfort of their own homes.

However, it’s important to note that some people may still benefit more from in-person, traditional therapy alone.

Overall, online therapy can be a great alternative to in-person therapy for non-suicidal individuals or those who do not require more intensive intervention.

Length of Therapy Treatment

Length of treatment refers to the duration of time a patient should receive treatment for any serious mental illness or health problem. The duration can vary based on the severity of the issue and the goals of the treatment. Treatment can last for days, weeks, months, or even years, depending on the patient’s condition and progress.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are several factors to consider regarding treatment length of time:

  • Treatment length should be discussed with the therapist.
  • Treatment is often tentative and can be reassessed, for example, an initial depression diagnosis may be offered with presenting symptoms, but changed later if underlying trauma is uncovered.
  • Assessment or evaluation sessions may occur before a treatment plan is suggested.
  • Further treatment goals may be negotiated in some cases.
  • More individuals show significant change or recovery with longer treatments.
  • Expectations and a sufficient amount of treatment should be had before deciding that treatment is not working.

However, given these considerations, there is an average treatment length! Again, according to the APA:

  • On average, it takes 15-20 sessions for 50 percent of patients to recover.
  • There are psychological treatments that can result in improvements over 12-16 weekly sessions.
  • Patients and therapists often continue treatment over longer periods (20-30 sessions) for more complete symptom remission and confidence in skills needed to maintain gains.
  • People with co-occurring conditions may need 12-18 months of therapy for it to be effective.
  • Some people with chronic problems may require extensive treatment, but this is a minority of those needing or seeking help.

Patient Confidentiality

Patient confidentiality refers to the right of patients to keep their medical records and personal health information private from unauthorized persons.

It is important in healthcare because it allows patients to trust their healthcare providers and feel comfortable sharing sensitive information without fear of judgment or disclosure.

Confidentiality is required by law and healthcare and mental health professionals are ethically and legally bound to maintain it.

It is critical for individuals struggling with mental health to know that they can seek help and receive care without their personal information being shared without their consent.

Types of Psychotherapy

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A talk therapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. Learn more about CBT.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: A form of talk therapy that focuses on exploring unconscious thoughts and past experiences to better understand current behavior. Learn more about psychodynamic therapy.
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): A type of therapy that focuses on improving communication and relationships with others. Learn more about IPT.

Getting The Most Out Of psychotherapy

If you’re struggling with mental health and looking for ways to maximize the benefits of psychotherapy, there are several things you can try.

  1. First, it’s important to choose a therapist who is a good fit for you and learn about their approach to therapy.
  2. Don’t be afraid, to be honest with your therapist and let your emotions show.
  3. It’s also helpful to make therapy a regular part of your life and apply what you learn in sessions to the rest of your week.
  4. If therapy isn’t working for you, don’t hesitate to speak up and consider finding a new therapist. Remember, being open and honest is key to getting the most out of counseling sessions.

Therapy Session Conclusion:

Your first therapy session is an important step towards better mental health and wellness.

By understanding what to expect, you can enter the session feeling prepared and confident. Remember, therapy is a safe and confidential space, and your therapist is there to support you on your journey toward a happier, healthier life. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, share your concerns, or take your time during your first session.

With time and effort, therapy can be a valuable tool to help you navigate life’s challenges and build the life you want.

Finally, please know our team has covered similar therapy questions. For example, you may learn about therapy for anger, paying via HSA, your 1st therapy session, finding the right therapist, insurance coverage, women’s issues, ISDTP therapy, and how to talk about your feelings.

We’d love to hear from you too! Tell us what mental health software to review next on Online Mental Health Reviews. If you have stories about using a particular product or know of a discount code, please share so everyone may benefit!

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  1. Is Online Therapy Effective? | NCOA.org. (2023, January 6). National Council on Aging. https://www.ncoa.org/adviser/online-therapy/what-is-online-therapy/
  2. https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/length-treatment. (n.d.). https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/length-treatment

If You Are In Crisis

In case of an emergency, seeking help through online therapy may not be safe or enough. If you require immediate help, dialing 911 is recommended, especially if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings of harming yourself or others. One can also reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline to seek help at any time. Additionally, the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can be reached by dialing 800-662-HELP (4357) for free and confidential support available 24/7, 365 days a year.

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