What to expect when seeing a therapist for the first time

6 December 2023
Rohini Kundu Written by Rohini Kundu
Rohini Kundu

Rohini Kundu

Rohini is a student of dentistry and a health and wellness writer. Her mission is to provide her...

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Ankita Magdani Reviewed by Ankita Magdani
Ankita Magdani

Ankita Magdani

Ankita Magdani is a Mental Health Therapist, Career, and Mindset Coach based in Dubai. She...

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At some point in everyone’s life, they will experience mental health issues. Worldwide, 1 in every four people will experience mental health challenges in any given year. Suffering from a mental health issue is that common.

Yet, most people suffer in silence, thinking it’s just them dealing with the condition. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to deal with it alone. You can always choose to seek help and go to therapy. However, taking the first step towards change is the most challenging part.  Going to treatment for the first time can feel intimidating. We feel you, and we are here to help.

Here is everything you need to know about seeing a therapist for the first time. Remember, it might feel scary, but it is worth it. 

Types of therapy

If you are going to therapy for the first time, it might be a good idea to know about your options.

Here are some types of therapy to give you an idea.

  • Psychodynamic therapy: This is traditional talk therapy. During a session, you talk about your personal life, and the therapist asks questions to help you recognize patterns in your behavior. This type of therapy is highly beneficial for common mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBT is much shorter and has a more active approach than talk therapy. The therapist challenges your unhelpful cognitive assumptions and teaches you healthier behavior. This type of therapy is helpful for people who have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or PTSD.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy: EMDR is a research-based form of therapy that is used to treat PTSD. In this therapy, you talk about a traumatic memory in detail, and your therapist helps you reprocess it.   

Note: This is not an exhaustive list. Here are some resources to help you know more about different types of therapy and what might suit you best. 

What to expect when seeing a therapist for the first time

Five things to consider before your first therapy session

1. Why do you think you need therapy? It is a question you should think about before your first therapy session. There’s a common misconception that you only need therapy when you are suffering from a specific mental illness or trauma. Sure, your therapist can help you if you are experiencing chronic anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issues. But they can also help you cope if you need help coping with the loss of a loved one or going through significant life changes, like moving to a new city, marrying, or having children.

2 . You might feel uncomfortable at times. It sounds counterintuitive, but therapy can sometimes make you feel worse. It might mean that you are healing. Change is painful, and therapy requires you to work on your issues. A therapist will make sure that back-to-back sessions don’t need you to do deep work. If it feels too uncomfortable, remember that you can always speak up.

3. Speaking up if you feel too uncomfortable: Therapy should be a safe place to share everything. But if your therapist brings up something you are not ready to talk about, inform them. That way, they can help you tackle conflict avoidance and be more assertive. Also, it will help your therapist understand you better and tailor their approach to your needs.

4. Understanding what progress looks like: Initially, you might have difficulty understanding if you are making any progress. It is always a good idea to ask your therapist how to measure progress. That way, making real progress will seem less far-fetched and more attainable. You will also notice minor signs of change and appreciate yourself.

5. Therapy is meant to improve your life: Sometimes, progress can feel too slow. Sometimes, finding the right therapist for yourself might seem daunting. Therapy can make you feel that your issues are worsening instead of getting better. But remember to be patient and not give up on therapy. Therapy is meant to help you, even though it might seem like a lot of work.  

Your first therapy session: what to expect

Many people have certain misconceptions about what to expect in their first therapy session.

In most cases, you will fill out paperwork and answer basic questions about your physical and mental health. Here are some of the common things you can expect.

Introduction to your therapist: Your first therapy session will start with an introduction. Your therapist will likely introduce themselves to you and discuss their schooling and expertise. They will also discuss with you the potential risks and outcomes of psychotherapy. Your therapist will probably ask you a critical question: why are you in therapy? It is okay if you don’t have a specific answer. Your therapist will help you work it out.

Your therapist will ask you several questions: Your therapist will ask you about your medical issues and family history. Some questions might be general, while some might be more specific. They may even ask you questions that might feel invasive. You don’t need to answer them if you feel uncomfortable. But make sure you are open and honest with your therapist, and communicate that you don’t want to answer some questions.

You need to ask your therapist questions: You should ask your therapist certain questions to get a clear idea of your future sessions and progress. You can ask them how long progress will take and how they know they have made progress. You can also ask them how often you should meet and whether there will be any provision to meet them in an emergency. 

Your therapist might give you a treatment plan: After getting to know each other, your therapist will likely give you a plan detailing the intended treatment outcomes. This treatment plan will not be set in stone and will be updated or modified as you start going to therapy. 

Ending your first therapy session: By the end of your first session, your therapist might assign you some tasks or ask you to think about certain things discussed. You will also be scheduling your next therapy session. 

What to expect when seeing a therapist for the first time

What happens after your first therapy session

Your first therapy session should make you feel inspired. It should help you gain new insights into whatever issues you are dealing with. Your first therapy session should also make you want to work with your therapist. 

However, you might also realize you want to avoid working with this therapist in the first session. In that case, switching therapists and finding someone who suits you the most is always okay. Your first therapy session might also leave you feeling uncomfortable.

Being vulnerable in front of a stranger is not easy. It might feel unnerving at first. But once you build a rapport with your therapist, you will find it easier to discuss your issues.