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How to prepare for your first therapy session

An interesting little article in the Metro about Ellen Scott's experience with preparing herself for her first therapy session. I have adapted it in places to widen the scope a little.

How to prepare for your first therapy session

Think about what you want from therapy?

Are you hoping a therapist can help you through a specific situation or stressful event, do you need a place to vent or learn techniques for dealing with stress or anxiety? Maybe you are looking for a longer term of therapy where you can re-visit a time in your life that is troubling you and feels unresolved.

It is important to think about what you would like to gain from therapy sessions so you can mention that from the get-go, and have an internal timeline for when you'll feel like therapy's accomplished its purpose.

Ask your therapist if they offer a pre-session visit or call before therapy begins.

This will help calm some of those pre-therapy nerves and meet with your therapist to see if they are a good fit for you. It also makes walking into their workplace a little less intimidating.

Decide what you'd like from your therapist.

Do a bit of on-line research into the different types of therapeutic models. Some models, such as Person-centred therapy is very much client led, with the therapist taking a backseat and providing help and guidance where needed. Therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapies are very much more therapist led. Models such as Psychodynamic therapy, for example, tend to be more suited to longer term therapy, while Cognitive Behaviour Therapies are normally better suited to short term work. Decide what type of approach you are wanting and do some research to find a therapeutic style that appeals. It will help you to find the therapist you want.

Make a list of things you'd like to bring up in your first session.

You don't need to bring the list along with you, but it's handy to have a clear idea of things you definitely want to discuss.

Make sure the therapist answers any questions about the logistics - payment, appointment timings, appointment frequency etc.

This is essential stuff as you do not want to come away from the therapist feeling anxious about these matters. All therapists are taught in their basic training about contracting with a client. It's where we provide the client with all the information about appointments, payments, cancellation policies etc. The therapist should cover all of this, but be prepared with your own questions in case there are some that are outside of the scope normally covered in the contracting.

Remember that if you don't like this therapist, that's okay.

It's normal to feel pressure to make this one stick and carry through a commitment.

But this is your mind we are talking about. Therapy is all about you. It's an area where you really should be completely self-involved.

Listen to your gut, and if you don't feel comfortable with your therapist for whatever reason - whether it's because you don't feel they really understand what you are saying, or their style of therapy isn't making you feel comfortable - remember that it's ok to look elsewhere. The whole point of therapy is to feel better. If you don't feel you can open up to your therapist and trust what they say, it's never going to work out. And it's fine if it takes a few tries to find one that's right for you.

Clear the time around your first session.

Shut off your phone, tell anyone who may need to contact you that you'll be out of contact for a bit. Don't schedule anything for immediately after your session, you may feel you need time to gather your thoughts.

Oh, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the session and find the workplace of the therapist. The last thing you want is the added stress of arriving late.

Make a note of any medication you're currently on.

Your therapist will want to know any medication you are on as the side effects of some drugs can exacerbate feelings, thoughts and behaviours associated with conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress for example.

Go in ready to be open and honest.

Sorry, but therapy won't work if you are not ready to open up and be totally honest. 

Let go of holding up a front or trying to present your best self to your therapist. They're professionals, they've heard it all, and you're really not going to appal them by opening up.

If they ask you a question about the severity of what's going on, don't downplay it. Don't feel like you have to sculpt your answers to make them fit a certain diagnosis, either.

Go in ready to be completely upfront and honest. Yes it's scary. Yes, you might need to be a bit vulnerable. But that's how it will end up helping you.

Taken and adapted from an article written by Ellen Scott for the Metro. Monday 30th Oct 2017.