Not only do you have to share information about your problem, but also the basics about your life — your family, your background, your relationships and more. With a stranger, no less.
Then, imagine that the first therapist you go to see isn’t the right fit for you. You’re expected to do this all over again — maybe more than twice.
This process isn’t easy, but these three things might help smooth the way a bit.
Before you go to see the therapist, prepare yourself. The first session with any kind of mental health professional is nearly always primarily an information-gathering meeting. They’re going to ask you what brings you in to see them today, and then ask a bunch of questions regarding your history, your family, your relationships and such. They will either take notes about what you tell them (in order to fill in some forms later on), or may ask if it’s okay to audio record the session (as some therapists find note-taking distracting to the client).
You’re in a safe environment. The professional is not there to judge you, and they understand if some things are going to be difficult or embarrassing to talk about. Rest assured, they are there to help.
1. Be honest.
You waste both your own time and that of the professional if you’re less than honest with them. If they ask you how many drinks you have a day, don’t paint a prettier picture than is the truth. If they ask how often you feel depressed during the day, simply tell them how it is.
If you try and paint a rosier or better picture of your life than it really is, the professional may believe you — and either mis-diagnose you, or suggest a course of treatment than is less-than-optimal.
2. Don’t jump to conclusions, but trust your gut.
Sometimes we let our first impressions get the better of us. When you first sit down in a professional’s office, you’ll want to take in their office environment. Is it welcoming and comforting to you? How does the professional talk to you — as a partner in your care, or as an expert who has all the answers?
What kind of relationship do you establish with the professional after a few minutes? Is it professional but friendly? Or is it cold and distant? Therapists call this “rapport,” and having a good rapport with your therapist is ideal for getting good work done with them.
Eventually, you’ll have to trust your gut about what it says about the therapist. But give them a fair chance before making a final decision about whether you’ll continue seeing them or not.
3. Be nervous, it’s okay.
It’s okay to be nervous if this is your first time seeing a therapist. That’s a perfectly normal response. The professional does this for a living; you do not.
If you find words difficult to come by, share your nervous feeling with the therapist. Remember, it’s a safe environment and they will not judge you for feeling that way. Instead, it will help break the ice, and lets the therapist know where you are with your emotions.
If you work hard to hide your nervousness when you really are nervous, you may become so focused on it that it’s hard to talk about all the things you’ve come there to talk about. And this holds true for any feeling you may be feeling — angry, sad, lonely, manic, or whatever. Share that feeling with your therapist — it will help.
It’s a difficult first step to make the decision to see a therapist. But now that you’ve made the decision, take it in stride and be confident in your first visit with a new therapist. Remember, you are the expert in your own life, but you’re there to improve some aspect of it.