Monday, April 20, 2015

Ten Things To Know Before Your First Therapy Appointment.

Have you ever been in therapy? 

I have. 

Did you not expect that? 

If you didn't - well - surprise, I guess. But if you did - well, yeah, you know me. 

Let me tell you something else about myself. 

I AM a therapist. 

You may have already known that. I just needed to add it in anyway. Consider it a disclaimer of sorts. 

So just in case you think you want to go to therapy but you're afraid. Or in case you are planning on going and can't imagine what will happen when you walk into that office. Or maybe you get there and you want to immediately flee from the waiting area. Don't! It will be okay. 

Ten Things To Know Before Your First Therapy Appointment

1. There might be a couch. 

Don't worry - you're not expected to lay down on it. But many offices have couches. It's a comfort thing. You don't want to sit in a hardback chair for about an hour any more than we'd want you to. So while many agencies do not have couches or comfy chairs, many individual practitioners do. Comfort matters. Don't be afraid of the couch. 

2. There will be tissues. 

We don't EXPECT you to cry. But any good therapist will have a box of tissues handy. And visible. Don't look at them and run. You might need them. You might not. Maybe our next client will. We still have them, just in case. 

3. I've been where you are. 

It's very beneficial for therapists to experience therapy. I learned that in graduate school. Fortunately I had already developed a great relationship with my therapist. Score! I was ahead of the curve. Many therapists know what it's like to be in the role of client. We know the nerves you might feel before you meet us. And guess what? 

4. We get nervous, too. 

Sure - there are many professionals out there who may have nerves of steel. And maybe mine are often steady, or maybe not, but when a new client is about to walk through the door or pick up the phone? It's exciting in some ways. And excitement can stir up nerves in the strongest of people. So you're not alone. Remember we're human. 

5. There will be a clock. 

Not because we want to stare at it while listening to you. We want it there so you're aware of the time, too. And yes, I'm sorry to say it, we have to stick to a pretty strict schedule because there's probably someone waiting to see us right after you. But no, we won't start you talking about the heaviest of topics and then hand you a tissue as we shove you out the door. Those kinds of therapists are the punchline on a television show. We're not heartless. Human, remember?

6. We might take notes.

Not every therapist holds a notepad in their hands while meeting with you, but some do. Honestly, it depends on which meeting this is - and what information we have from you beforehand. One-on-one session? Our first? With only a few minutes of phone conversation beforehand? We probably have a notepad at the ready. But we're not going to stare at it and write down every.single.word you say. We're going to take notes, our own sort of shorthand, so we can document things later. Because that's a part of our job description. But don't be afraid of the notepad. And if your therapist doesn't look up from it while speaking or listening to you? Find a new therapist. 

7. You might feel uncomfortable. 

Therapy isn't a barrel of laughs. It might not be fun. Honestly. You're there because something heavy is going on with you. It might make you cry. It might make you angry. That's all okay. We get it. We've heard it and seen it before. And if we haven't it's still okay. Because you're you and you need to address what's happening in your life. That's why we're meeting. 

8. You might not like us. 

Let's face it - you might walk out of our office and never want to return. All I ask is that you consider what it is you didn't like about the session/the therapist. Did you hate the topic of discussion? Feel uncomfortable? That might just be the therapy part of it. And that happens. Did you feel like the therapist was condescending? Rude? Inappropriate? Just not meshing with you? Not listening? Not taking you seriously? You don't have to return. A therapist is there for YOU. If you don't like us you're not going to talk to us and we're not going to be able to work together. Don't waste time scheduling appointments you're going to try to get out of because you don't like your provider. It's not worth it and there is someone else out there who will be perfect for you. Please try again. Don't judge the entire process and profession on one person. You'll find the right therapist for you. 

9. It's not going to be easy. 

This should be a given, but if you're someone like me who is pretty comfortable putting yourself out there and talking about personal things, maybe you think that sitting down across from someone new will be fun. And maybe it will be. But it's not always going to be the kind of session that's easy and simple. You're there for a reason - keep it in mind so you can progress and pinpoint what it is that is impacting you to such an extent that it's affecting your life - in a way you can't ignore. 

10. Don't be embarrassed. 

You don't have to tell everyone or ANYone that you're going to therapy. It's your life. You do what you need to. If you're uncomfortable and want to wait? Fine. But don't be embarrassed. Don't feel ashamed that you're going to go talk to someone about whatever is going on with you. Many people find therapy unnecessary. Whether it's a cultural reaction, a generational response, a gut instinct, people might say things like why? and what on earth for? and you might second guess yourself. But don't. Don't be embarrassed. Talk to supportive people. People who understand you and what you need. Share if you want to. Don't if you don't. But never find yourself ashamed for reaching out for help. There's nothing wrong with the therapeutic process. Not a thing. And there's no need to hide it. You'd be surprised how many people have been to therapy or are in therapy currently that just don't talk about it. Opening the door to that kind of conversation can lead to a support system beyond what you're imagine. 

So, there you have it. Ten things to know before your first appointment. I hope you find this information reassuring. And real. And that you make note of it in case you find yourself ready to take a step towards getting the support you might find you need. Because you might not need it for yourself - but you might find yourself talking to a friend or family member who is considering it for themselves and afraid, and now you can tell them they don't need to be. 

* Please do not hesitate to ask any questions you might have - email me or comment below - and I'm happy to answer honestly to the best of my ability. Please note that this post and anything else on this blog is not to be considered medical advice. Please do not look to this information in lieu of professional resources. Speak with your doctor, your own therapist, nurse practitioner, etc. or contact your health insurance for information on how to obtain a therapist for yourself or a family member. 

This article is only meant to give you a modicum of comfort as you plan to find a therapist or attend an appointment with someone for your mental health needs. Please do not replace face-to-face advice with my words or recommendations. If you believe you are at risk and need professional help reach out to speak with someone immediately. There is never shame in asking for help. 

If you are struggling or in crisis please reach out to 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for help. 


  1. These are great tips. I've never been to a therapist but I have several family members who have and I am going to share this with them.

  2. I wish I had read something like this 15 years ago. But better late than never. Thanx!

  3. I have never been to a therapist but I see why people go. It's nice to have someone you can confide in and who is there to help and not judge.

  4. Really great tips here for anyone who's thinking about therapy and might not know what to expect. Love how you've broken it down.

  5. You forgot
    #11- If it's a great therapist you'll hate when the hour is up!
    I've seen thearpists many times and a good one is worth their weight in gold!

  6. Awesome tips! I think therapy is great and that EVERYONE can benefit from it.

  7. I'm no expert, I've only been in therapy once (post WTC issues plus leaving the kayak company I was a partner in for a while, partially due to WTC issues but also failure to play well with the founder, who was a bit of a diva) but #8 rang a bell. I got recommendations from 2 friends when I started to slide into being depressed in a way that was really messing with my life (like not wanting to get out of bed at all). 1st one was a lovely lady, very warm and sweet - it wasn't that I didn't like her, it was that I could just see myself crying on her shoulder once a week for a very long time. Ended up going with the other lady, who was also very nice, but a little less comforting, more challenging.

    I do wish I'd known that in college when I was also dealing with mild depression, I think; my school had 2 counselors available and I went to one and told him my story and he said "You know, students here are like ducks, they look like they are just gliding along but under the water they are kick kick kicking with their little feet". End of the session. Thanks doc, I'll just head over to the health center for some sleeping pills for the insomnia now.

  8. I haven't been to one, but I think these are all excellent tips!

  9. I've not been to therapy before, and I hope I don't have to. But if I ever did, I'd be much comforted by your helpful tips here, thank you!

  10. These are great tips! I've been to a few therapists and a couple I didn't like. Definitely find a new one if you're not meshing well with the one you've got. Therapy won't work if you're not comfortable enough to open up. There are good therapists out there. You've just got to find one that works for you. And make the time to go...and that's another issue entirely if you're anything like me.

  11. What a great post. On my last doctor visit I was told that I was depressed and I may need someone to talk to since I don't talk to my friends about things that are bothering me. They have their own problems & don't need to be burdened with mine too. I'm nervous but after reading this it makes me feel a little better.

  12. #11 -- It's hard work and you have to show up for yourself and do the work. Going through the motions will never get you to where you want to be.

    That's from personal experience and a lot of tears.



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