Sound mental health is crucial to functioning well in society and excelling in your endeavors. Therefore, it is not unusual for people to seek help from professionals if they face situations threatening their mental health or when dealing with a mental health problem. These professionals are known as therapists.
According to Statista, between 2019 and 2020, around 41.4 million adults in the United States received treatment or counseling for their mental health. You may not know what to expect if you have never had a counseling session with a therapist. Going for your first therapy session could seem like swimming in uncharted waters.
However, this would not be the case if you knew what to expect. Therefore, to help you along, this article covers all you need to know about seeing a therapist for the first time. Let’s begin.
Who Are Therapists?
Therapists are medical professionals who treat and rehabilitate patients dealing with mental health issues. They are also called psychologists and may include life coaches, counselors, social workers, etc. There are also occupational and marriage therapists.
But for this article, we will focus on those who work with patients with mental health challenges. Working with a therapist is essential to your treatment and recovery if you fall within this class of people.
Depending on what you are dealing with, you might see a therapist for:
- Behavioral issues
- Negative thinking
- Sleeping disorder
- Difficulty coping with life changes
- Low self-esteem
- Relationship problems
- Substance addiction
- Suicide intervention
If you are dealing with any of the above issues to the extent that they interfere with your daily life, work, and relationships, you need to see a therapist. Doing so will help you control your symptoms and ensure you do not endanger yourself and those around you.
Tips for Choosing a Therapist
Before you go for your first meeting with a therapist, you must choose one. But how do you do this? What do you watch for, and how can you tell that a therapist is the right one for you?
Below are some tips for choosing a therapist:
- Find out if they have any professional affiliations.
- Check their academic background and the training they received to determine if they are the right fit for you.
- Ask about the cost of treatment and if your insurance can cover it. Most therapists run a private practice, so their rates differ. Location and experience also affect the cost of treatment.
- Find out if the therapist has specialized training, especially for your problem.
- Find out the therapist’s office rules, focusing on penalties for missing appointments, office hours, how to book an appointment, etc.
- Ask the therapist about their area of specialty. Counselors often have a field they specialize in, and it might not be what you’re looking for.
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Visiting a counselor for the first time is similar to going for your first doctor or lawyer’s appointment. When you arrive, the receptionist will ask you to sign in, after which you sit in the waiting room until it is time for your appointment. However, the procedure might be different if the therapist has a home office.
Depending on how the counselor runs their practice, you may arrive and go straight into the treatment room. However, in either case, you must fill out the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) forms. This form empowers your therapist to share information about your treatment if they believe you will harm yourself or someone else.
They will break their confidentiality code if they share the information outside these grounds. Aside from the form, you will also provide your insurance information, especially if you want to pay with your policy. You may pay out-of-pocket if your insurance coverage does not extend to therapy.
Next, you will provide your medical history, indicating whether you are on any medication. You will also fill out a questionnaire where you describe your symptoms, then sign the therapist-patient agreement.
Ensure you ask questions about anything you don’t understand. If the receptionist cannot provide satisfying answers, wait until you meet the therapist and clarify your doubts.
The First Session
The initial meeting is about getting acquainted and discovering if the therapist is the right fit for you. Usually, no treatment happens at this point; it starts with the next meeting. During the first session, your therapist will ask filler questions to determine the extent of the mental health challenge.
These questions help them decide the treatment you need and whether it will be short-term or long-term. Standard questions to expect from your therapist are:
- Can you describe your symptoms?
- Why did you decide to get therapy?
- What do you think triggered the problem?
- Are you in a relationship?
- Do you have a support system?
- Where do you currently live?
- Are you employed, or are you in between jobs?
- What do you do when you start exhibiting symptoms?
Answer these questions honestly and give as much information as you can. Being candid with your counselor influences the success of your treatment. Just as your lawyer needs all the facts to represent you in a legal case, your therapist needs information about your mental health challenge to help you improve.
What Happens Next?
Once the initial meeting is over, your therapist will commence therapy. But what should you expect during these meetings? First, let’s look at what you should not expect.
Most people think a therapist has a magic wand that would solve their problems or will instantly side with them. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While a counselor is sympathetic to what you are going through, their job is neither to solve your problems nor tell you what to hear.
Their job is to help and guide you to a place where you solve those problems yourself. The therapist will show you that there are things you can and cannot change. For instance, you can’t determine how people act towards you or what happens in the world.
You can only control your decisions and how to react to situations. In this case, triggers that negatively affect your mental health. What you can expect from your therapist is encouragement.
They will show you a light at the end of the tunnel. For example, suppose you suffer depression and anxiety because of a traumatic event you lived through. Your therapist will try to get you to open up about it and develop a way to cope and eventually overcome the trauma.
Another approach the counselor can take is helping you explore phobias or examining your relationships with yourself and with people. Ultimately, your therapist will expose things you never knew about yourself and help you find ways to resolve the underlying issues affecting your mental health.
What Should You Expect From Yourself at the First Meeting?
There are several misconceptions about mental health issues and therapy. One of such is that only weak people go for counseling. This explains why only 45% of Americans with a clinical mental problem fail to seek professional help.
This misconception is more common among men. According to research, only 11.3% of American men sought therapy between 2019 and 2020. So, deciding to see a therapist is a ‘huge’ deal, and you should congratulate yourself for taking this bold step.
Also, since you’ve made a choice, you must stick with it. However, you might want to reconsider your decision at the first meeting. This is because your first therapy session may be emotionally draining.
While answering questions, you might confront things you thought you’ve gotten over or worked hard to bury. The memories may be too much to bear, and you might dread what the other sessions would be like. But don’t let this scare you or weaken your resolve.
Keep in mind that not all sessions will be like the first meeting. The more time you spend with your therapist, the easier it gets to discuss the difficult topics and the closer you get to good mental health.
How Should You Treat Yourself During Therapy?
Therapy demands baring yourself before you can be whole again. Therefore, you have to treat yourself right. Here are some tips on how to do this:
- Treat yourself with kindness
- Don’t hide anything from your therapist
- Be open to reflecting on your actions and how they impact your life
- Be willing to follow the recommendations of your therapist
Here’s what you should not do during therapy:
- Don’t put up a wall
- Avoid lying to your therapist
- Don’t reveal a significant fact at the close of the session when it cannot be discussed
Finally, don’t stick with a counselor you don’t connect with or trust. If you feel uncomfortable, change your therapist immediately.
Therapy has a lot of benefits, but don’t expect to see results overnight. You have to put in the work by committing to attending your sessions. It might take up to 5 sessions to see positive results, so keep at it until you achieve your treatment goals.
Do you need more information about mental health issues and treatment options? Browse through our extensive resource center.