When someone makes the critical decision to start therapy, it can provoke a great deal of nervousness—beyond the underlying anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues that are prompting them to seek therapy in the first place. This is especially true if they've never been in a setting where they've been expected to focus solely on themselves and the sensitive aspects of their lives for a fixed period of time.
As a new therapy client, preparation is key to help calm the nerves. Here are the top six tips for how to prepare for a first therapy session.
1. Have a Quick Reference for Health-Related Information
Psychological and physical health are intricately connected, and during a first therapy session, it'll be important to come prepared to discuss health history details. People should make sure to have a readily accessible list of the medications they are currently taking, including supplements. This can be especially helpful if a person would like to start a new medication in conjunction with their first therapy session.
Beyond current medications, being prepared with a list of medications one has taken in the past can be helpful, especially if certain medications caused adverse side effects or were otherwise ineffective. Be ready to discuss other health conditions, too, as many medical conditions can influence mental health or stress levels—including endocrine conditions (such as thyroid disorders), chronic pain syndromes, or chronic illnesses.
Having these health details written down in a single place can serve as a handy reference and reduce stress during a first therapy session.
2. Think About the Functional Goals of Therapy
Often when starting therapy, the broad goal is to feel better overall. While this is certainly a realistic and achievable goal, it can be helpful to break this goal down into smaller pieces. This way, it's easier to assess progress during a therapeutic journey. Before a first therapy session, people need to take some time to reflect on what they're looking to get out of therapy.
If a person is experiencing depression and hoping that therapy will help their condition improve, they should reflect on the most challenging aspects of their current condition. For example, depression-related sleep challenges are very common. If sleep has been difficult, a goal of therapy could be to increase the number of nights per week that they get quality, uninterrupted sleep. Or, if a person is experiencing tearfulness with their depression, a practical goal of therapy would be to see a reduction in crying episodes per week. Tracking these symptoms can help a person measure the impact of their therapy and make sure they're recognizing improvement in their condition. It's important to ask one's therapist during a first therapy session about how they view and measure progress, as well.
3. Prepare First Therapy Session Questions
Thinking too much about a first therapy session can make it difficult to open up and start a conversation and relationship with one's new therapist. However, going into a first therapy session with a completely blank slate can also make it difficult to know where to start. It can help to prepare a few questions to ask during the first therapy session. Examples include:
- What to expect from therapy?
- What is the therapist's counseling style?
- How do practical issues like billing work?
A good way to come up with questions is for people to think about what details about the first session are nagging at them the most—and then reframe those as a question. For example, if a person is worried about what they should be doing during a therapy session (i.e., should they be sitting at their computer desk, or is it okay for them to be lying on their couch), they should simply ask. Or, if a person is concerned about the billing or financing aspect of a session, they should feel free to get those questions out in the open as well.
4. Focus on Creating a Supportive Environment for the Session
Virtual mental health counseling sessions can help people fit therapy into their busy lives in a way that was never possible before. However, people need to think about where in their living space they will want a session to occur. Being strategic about this can ensure that a first therapy session is as productive and beneficial as possible. Some factors to consider include the following:
- Selecting what to wear. Choosing comfortable clothing can be a great way to feel at ease during a therapy session. People shouldn't worry about dressing to make an impression or to appear professional. Instead, they should wear clothing that makes them feel as relaxed as possible.
- Choosing where to have the session. If possible, people should choose to have a first therapy session in an area of their home where they're free from mental distractions. If having a therapy session in the kitchen means staring at a to-do list on the fridge, or a sink full of dishes, this can introduce more stress into the session. Instead, choose a peaceful, meditative space with as few distractions as possible. Ensuring that this is free from disruption (i.e., by locking the door to prevent roommates from wandering in) can also help one feel more comfortable during a first session.
- Being intentional about the physical space and nearby items. Once a person has chosen what to wear and where to set up their device for a first therapy session, it can also help to have a few items nearby to make the setting as calm and supportive as possible. Think about keeping a candle, a favorite scent, a comfort item, a framed picture, or a cozy blanket nearby. Practical items, like a box of tissues, may be helpful to have on hand, too.
5. Think Ahead of Time About Conversation Starters or Jumping Off Points
One of the most intimidating aspects of a first therapy session may be the initial ice breaker or conversation starter that answers the question: "What brings you here today?" This question can feel so big that it becomes difficult to answer or even to know how to start answering. However, instead of thinking of a first therapy session as this giant, inaugural jump into a new frontier, it's helpful to realize that each therapy session is simply a resource for whatever a person may be needed at the moment.
Here are some potential topics for jumping-off points people can use when it comes to talking to their therapist during a first therapy session:
- When was a period in their life, or a specific moment, that they felt truly happy or joyful? What factors contributed to that moment—who was there, and what was the context? Comparing that moment to the present moment, what factors are different or the same?
- When was a period in their life that they felt the lowest, and what factors contributed to this? How quickly did they come out of this lowest moment, or what feelings or emotions are residual from this moment and continuing into the present day?
- What relationships in the past have they considered to be the most nourishing and constructive? On the flip side, what relationships in the past have been the most toxic or difficult?
- What present hardship or situation would they want to change first if they could?
- What worries them the most about the future? What are they hoping will happen in the future?
- What small, annoying thing happened yesterday?
- What choice did they make recently that they regret?
6. Congratulate Oneself on the Reality of a First Therapy Session
It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and to go through the process of seeking therapy and showing up to a first session. A final tip for preparing for a first therapy session is simply acknowledging the groundwork that a person has laid to get themselves into the position of attending a first therapy session.
Showing up for oneself is often more than half the battle, as practicing true self-care takes enormous bravery. Before a first therapy session, people should take a moment to pat themselves on the back for taking this big, important next step forward.
How to Learn More About First Therapy Sessions
The above tips about how to prepare for therapy consultation can make it easier to leap into this rewarding journey. At Telemynd, our mental health professionals view therapy sessions as a resource for clients, and each session can serve whatever purpose is needed at the moment. Telemynd providers understand the dynamics that go into embarking upon a therapeutic journey, and they excel at easing clients into a first session. For more information about Telemynd's personalized approach to therapy, contact us to get started with an appointment today.