– Written by Amelia Putri –
So, you have decided on going to see a psychotherapist. Congratulations! It is a huge leap that you are about to be doing, so give yourself a pat on your shoulder. Making that decision is not a small deal because you are going to open yourself up to a person that you barely know. You also do not know what to expect and what are you going to do in a psychotherapy session. To help you ease your nervousness (it is totally normal to be nervous before going to a psychotherapist), and to have a successful therapy session, here are the things that you can prepare beforehand.
1. Ask for a Free Preliminary Session
Almost all psychotherapists offer a free preliminary session, both by phone or in-person meeting. In fact, therapists expect (but do not require) it because they understand that choosing a therapist is a big decision and that anticipating your first session can be nerve-racking. This pre-session is the first step in having an intro to what a psychotherapy look like in real life, which also will affect your final decision. Take advantage of this and ask any preliminary questions you have. But if this initial step causes anxiety, or you just simply cannot afford to wait to get the help you are looking for, just jump ahead to the next session, which is your first official therapy session.
2. Pick the Right Therapist For You
When it comes to finding a therapist, “fit” is extremely important. Even though your friend or family give you a referral, that does not necessarily mean this psychotherapist is going to be the one for you. Looking for a few options might help. Check their backgrounds, specialties, and fees. The free preliminary session can give you the opportunity and advantage to choose the right therapist for you. Then pick the one you feel most comfortable talking to because you are going to share your inner world with him/her.
3. Make an Appointment
After choosing the right therapist, make an appointment. Remember that you have to choose the time which fits your schedule perfectly. This means you have to calculate the right amount of time before and after the session. Consider the traffic, your schedule, so you can be there on time without being in a hurry and avoid any unnecessary stress, and also you can have an extra time for the post-session.
4. Create Some Space Before Departure
Whether it is your first appointment or any other session, blocking out extra time before you go to the therapist can help you calm down. Very often, anticipating a therapy session can cause stress and anxiety. So, create some space by practicing slow and deep breathing, then you can start thinking (and also writing) about how you feel, what your goal is, questions you want to ask during the session.
5. Think About Your Goals and Manage Your Expectation
Your first appointment will probably be a bit different from subsequent sessions because it may involve some tasks, such as taking care of billing information and completing initial paper work (your identity, contact information, authorizations).
There are other things that you need to know as well, such as fees, policies, whether they offer a sliding scale or payment plans, how many sessions you can expect to have, how frequently you need to meet with the therapist, the length of each session.
The first appointment is a blank slate, if you did not take the free preliminary session. Your therapist will likely ask you many questions as they start to understand you and what you are experiencing. A question that you might be asked is, “What do you want to achieve through therapy?”, or simply, “What are your goals?”. If you think about the answers of these questions beforehand, you will likely build a solid starting point to work together with the therapist to achieve your goals.
6. Ask Your Therapist About How the Progress Will Look Like
At the first appointment, talk to the therapist about how they set the program, how you will know if you are making progress (both in and outside of your sessions). Then check in with your therapist from time to time. You can also ask questions like if they have experience working with people who have concerns like yours, how the treatment plans like, will you have homework, et cetera. Asking questions can help you ease your fear, nervousness, and also make you feel more comfortable because then you know what you will face in the future during the treatment.
7. Bring a Notebook or Journal
Although this is not a requirement, but bringing your own notebook or journal and pen can help you quickly write down any important informations and also if your therapist give you a homework. You can also write what your session was about and review it anytime. A written journal can help you and your therapist measure the progress you make.
8. Expect to Feel Uncomfortable During the Session
In addition to feeling a bit anxious, you might also feel excited. After all, you are eager to feel better and improve your wellbeing. However, the first session can be a hard one. To help the therapist building the helpful treatment program for you, consider they may ask some questions such as:
- Challenges you are currently facing, your feelings and emotions.
- Recent changes in yourself or life.
- Your childhood, family and social relationship backgrounds.
- How long you have been experiencing your current difficulties.
Remember to manage your expectations, because therapy is relatively not a quick fix. You may engage a lot of your deepest feelings and emotions, which may feel uncomfortable when it happens. But trust your therapist on this, you need to release your repressed emotions and sometimes you need to confront with what you are always trying to ignore.
9. Trust Your Therapist and Do Not Hold Anything Back
To make a successful progress, the most important thing you need to do is trust your therapist. All therapists are ethically bound to safeguard the information you share with them. Your confidentiality is strictly guarded. Keep in mind that honesty and openness are paramount to a successful therapy. Therapists are not there to judge you, so tell them how you feel and what you are experiencing honestly.
Mental health therapy is a collaborative healing journey that requires both you and the therapist to work together in order to help you achieving your goals, enhancing wellbeing and the quality of your life.