The first appointment with a therapist can be a bit intimidating because unlike a visit to a physician, you are going there to talk about your emotional well-being instead of your physical well-being. Most of us consider our feelings and emotions to be personal and private. Therefore, the first thing you should know is that everything you say to a therapist is CONFIDENTIAL. Your privacy is taken very seriously. For all licensed Mental Health Professionals, confidentiality is PROTECTED BY STATE LAW. In fact, confidentiality applies not only to what you talk about, but also to the fact that you even made an appointment at all. There are some exceptions concerning safety/harm/abuse, however, unless there is an imminent threat, your visit will only be between you and your therapist. Don’t let privacy be a concern when making your first appointment.
Unfortunately, many people will suffer with depression for a long time before seeking outside help. If you find that you cannot deal with your depression on your own, it is a no-brainer to make an appointment to see a professional. This is not any different than seeking help from a Medical Doctor for a sore foot, upset stomach or other physical ailment. When you cannot fix something or make it better on your own, you get help. That is why doctors and therapists exist. Therefore, if you have already made an appointment with a therapist/counselor, you are a Rock Star! You have taken the first step to help yourself. Good for you! Now here is what you can expect.
Before your appointment, you may be asked to fill out some forms, a brief history or a questionnaire. These documents are extremely important to your therapist and are also strictly confidential. Be 100% truthful with your answers. Add details if possible. It is sometimes easier to write about your emotions than it is to voice them. Give your therapist the tools they will need to help you.
Most therapy appointments have a scheduled duration of 45 to 60 minutes. Appointments are commonly scheduled with a 15-minute window in between. Therefore, you will most likely be the only person in a private waiting room with very little wait time. Once you meet the therapist, they will suggest that you sit where you are most comfortable. You do not have to lie down on a couch (but you can if you wish). The first question will normally be something like:
“Why have you come to see a therapist?”
“What are you here for?”
“What can I help you with?”
“How are you feeling?”
“What is going on emotionally?”
Be prepared for this question! It catches some people off-guard because they are not quite ready to talk. That is ok. You can sit there silently if that is all you feel you are capable of doing on the first visit. A good therapist will go over your history and will never push you to talk. However, remember that you took the first step and made the appointment to get help. The longer you take to reveal your feelings, the longer it will take for your therapist give you that help. Also, remember that your session is timed. Anything you don’t say, will have to be said at the next visit.
During the visit, do not expect the therapist to “cure” you. They will not have all the answers to your problems on the first visit. In fact, they may not have any answers at all until you “talk it out,” because you hold the answers inside yourself. Most of therapy involves you understanding your own feelings and learning how to help yourself. The therapist is skilled at bringing out those feelings and emotions, and in teaching you how to deal with them. They will not tell you what to do, only suggest ways that you can help yourself.
Opening up to a therapist is of the utmost importance. You should feel comfortable and safe throughout the appointment. There will be NO JUDGEMENT. There should be no fear. The more you put into the session, the more you will get out of it. If you keep things hidden or locked away, there is no way for the therapist to help you deal with them. OPEN UP! YOU ARE PAYING THIS PERSON TO HELP YOU. Therapists can only help you as much as you are willing to let them.
No subjects are off limits. Throughout the visit you will be talking about things that you may have never shared with anyone else before. This may get uncomfortable. You may get emotional, angry, even hysterical. That is ok too. Therapists are used to that. Those are normal, expected responses to therapy. The beauty of a therapist is that they have no personal connection to you. They don’t know you, your family or friends, and will not be judging you in any way, no matter what you tell them. They are strictly there to help you.
When you have your first appointment, please know that it is the first of many. ONE APPOINTMENT IS NOT GOING TO HELP YOU. If I was a therapist that could help people on the first visit, I would be a billionaire. Therapy takes time and commitment. Therapy is a form of TREATMENT, not a CURE. You should plan on a minimum of four to six months of treatment, which could last for years. This can be done on a weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly basis depending on your needs. Schedule your next appointment BEFORE YOU LEAVE. Do not wait and say you will call later. Keep yourself accountable.
Most health insurances cover mental health care. Use your insurance. Therapy can be costly without it. Your privacy is protected in this way as well. Insurance companies are bound by HIPPA LAWS to keep your information confidential. Employers do not receive information about the health services an employee receives when using the company insurance. No one at the water cooler at work is going to talk about the fact that you made an appointment with a therapist . . . and really, so what if they did?!?! All confidentiality aside. Seeing a therapist is not something to hide. Celebrities and wealthy housewives have been bragging about their therapists as their best friends for decades. Today more than any time in history, there is little to no stigma attached to receiving mental health care. Seeking help is an intelligent, normal, everyday kind of self-care.
If you do not have insurance or the means to obtain mental health care, there are a plethora of resources available at low to no cost. Please check out this link via Free Online Resources for Mental Illness Any type of outside help can be beneficial when you need it. Talk to a friend, a pastor, a hotline, an online community, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are here to help.
Hopefully we have answered some questions and taken some of the anxiety away if you are preparing for your first visit to a therapist. Congratulations on having the courage and intelligence to help yourself. God bless.