The first time is usually an unforgettable experience be it good or bad. My first time, I was overwhelmed with a mix of emotions. There was a bit of excitement that this was finally happening but also an immense feeling of timidness because of the anticipation of what was to come. There were so many questions flooding my mind for weeks leading up to that moment but the one that kept coming back repeatedly was, “will I actually enjoy this?”
The Other First Time
Now that I have your attention, we’re talking about the other first time. The first time having a therapy session. No, not a cry session with best friends over wine or retail therapy at Target; a bona fide therapy session with a licensed professional. My first attempt at getting professional help did not go over well at all, in fact it made me even more apprehensive than I already was. A few years and a couple breakdowns later, I decided to try this therapy thing again. After reviewing websites, cross referencing, and viewing social media posts, I finally decided on a therapist. After sending an inquiry, I was contacted and an appointment was made based on both of our availability.
The Appointment is Scheduled, Now What?
For me personally, the weeks leading up to my appointment were nerve-wracking and induced a lot of anxiety which ironically is one of the things I wanted help with. So much so that I panicked and cancelled about 15 minutes before the session was supposed to start.
The first therapy session can be unnerving and met with a surge of emotions similar to those mentioned earlier. Should you sit on the couch or lie down? Will there be tears? How far into the past will the therapist dig? Do therapists really write down everything you say? While all of these are valid questions and feelings, and each therapist or counselor operates differently, the first therapy session (sometimes called a consultation) is more along the lines of an interview between you and your therapist that provides each of you an opportunity to see if the two of you will be a good fit for each other. It typically starts with an introduction followed by an outline of what to expect during that hour. The most invasive part of that first session (that can also be completed online prior to meeting or at the follow-up appointment) is the completion of an assessment that will ask about your personal and family mental health history including thoughts of self-harm, harming others or suicide ideation as well as any symptoms of mental illness you may have been experiencing. Although there won’t be any diagnoses that day, you can also expect to be asked what goals you’ll have from attending therapy and get an idea of how often you’ll be seen. The harder parts of therapy will come in the forthcoming sessions.
Building A Relationship With Your Therapist
Within the first 15 minutes of my session, I knew that my therapist had my best interests at heart and a truly vested interest in helping people in general. What a relief that was! It made me look forward to the next session. The relationship you have with your therapist will undoubtedly be the most intimate relationship you’ll ever have, therefore finding someone you feel comfortable with is critical to your mental health journey and healing process. Many therapists offer free consultations, so shop around! It’s a good idea to know what you want in a therapist by making a list of things that are important to you and inquire about them during the consultations to be sure you all will be able to work well with each other to achieve your mental health goals. For instance, how important that they’re the same race or gender as you? Do you want a religiously focused therapist? Is this therapist an ally of people with your sexual orientation? Are they eligible to prescribe medications if needed? My list was insane; perhaps because even though I was ready, subconsciously I was self-sabotaging to avoid the level of trust and intimacy that comes along with being in therapy.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are always in control. If a therapist doesn’t appear to be a good fit even after recurring sessions, schedule consultations with other therapists until you come across someone you feel comfortable with. In other words, don’t be afraid to fire-yes fire your therapist if your needs are no longer being serviced.
Therapy In A Pandemic
With the coronavirus still being prevalent, many therapy sessions have switched to virtual platforms such as telehealth. This means, in order to complete a session, you will need a safe, quiet space to talk freely and stable internet connection. Your therapist may be working from home or their office but they operate using secure lines to ensure they are still HIPPA compliant. When reviewing their website, check to be sure they can offer virtual sessions if this is a route you want to take. Although the internet connects us with anyone in the world, even with virtual sessions, you still must choose a provider in the state you reside in. The following networks are available to help you locate a therapist in your state that are accepting new patients and also offering virtual sessions:
Inclusive Therapist allows you to search for therapists based on race, religion, sexual orientation, language and more.