Your First Therapy Session
Many people are unfamiliar with therapy and want to know in advance what it's like. If you've ever seen therapy sessions on tv or in the movies, please be assured that it's probably not like that.
There will be some paperwork to fill out. Arrive ten minutes before your appointment time to fill out the paperwork. You were probably informed about financial arrangements when you made the appointment. Bring your insurance card, your pre-authorization number (if required by your insurance), and your co-pay.
The initial visit is a period for you and your therapist to get to know each other and get an idea where to proceed. You will probably be asked what brings you to therapy. The therapist will be assessing your situation. You will be asked what you feel is wrong in your life, and any symptoms you are experiencing (such as insomnia, nervousness, weight loss, etc.) You may also be asked to tell a little bit about your history. Feel free to bring notes.
Telling your story
Some people think that they need to spend an hour or more explaining their background and history. Not so. Your history can come out gradually, particularly if you want brief, solution-focused therapy. It's often better for you if you limit the amount of time that you spend talking about your history to no more than 15 - 20 minutes. This way you can spend part of the hour getting feedback from your therapist and developing a plan. Some people only have a vague idea of what is bothering them. That's OK. We'll help you to put words to what's bothering you. If you are in therapy because a spouse or parent thinks you ought to go, we'll want that person in the first session with you explaining the problem from their point of view. Sometimes parents come alone the first time to give a lot of important background history.
Summarize your history
You'll want to spend the majority of your session (which lasts anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour, depending on the therapist) developing a plan. So, it's important to tell your story briefly. Here are some examples:
"I've been depressed for at least six months."
"I've always been anxious, but it's worse when I have to take a test at school."
"I've been pretty lonely since moving here a year ago."
"My boyfriend and I got along well for the first three years that we knew each other. Now it seems like we're fighting all the time."
"My wife says she's going to leave me if I don't stop drinking."
Your therapist will ask for clarification on some points and then ask you what you want.
Creating a treatment plan
In order to change your life so that you're happier, we'll help you with a treatment plan that identifies your strengths, your problems, and your goals. This treatment plan is a highly individualized path to wellness. It's an action plan that also describes which methods will be used to help you to reach your goals.
Thinking about strengths
I know, I know. You hate to talk about your strengths. But the reason we need to know your strengths is so that we can use them to maximize your success in therapy. Perhaps you could have a friend or family member help you with a list of strengths that you can bring to your session. Let your therapist know that you've done this.
One of the most important parts of the session is to establish goals. Goals help both the therapist and the client to focus on what the client wants. You may already know what you don't want. So, establishing what you do want is generally not too difficult.
For example, you say that you've been sad and unmotivated. You lack energy and are prone to crying spells. If we think about the opposite of those signs and symptoms, your goals might be:
1. Increase happiness
2. Increase motivation
3. Increase energy
4. Decrease crying spells
How will you know?
You may be asked how you will know if you have reached your goal. We want to put this in concrete terms. For example, if you're depressed, you will know that you're not depressed because....
1. You'll have the motivation to follow through with projects and assignments in your world.
2. You'll be crying less.
3. You'll have more energy.
4. Others will tell you that you're smiling more.
How do you feel?
You will be evaluating how you feel about your connection with your therapist that first hour. Do you feel like your therapist cares about your situation, and is invested in helping you? Do you feel comfortable asking questions and sharing sensitive information? If the answer to any of these questions is "no," consider trying someone else. In fact, most therapists honestly don't mind referring a client to someone else if that connection just isn't there. We want what is best for you. Good luck!