Posted on April 28, 2020
Starting therapy can be an intimidating process, especially if you’ve never been to a therapy session. Psychoanalysis is usually portrayed as a cold experience where the patient divulges their innermost secrets while a therapist silently takes notes and nods. Adding to stereotypes, therapy has traditionally been a taboo subject. It’s no wonder that many people don’t know what to expect from therapy.
There are many different reasons why someone would decide to give therapy a try. From unresolved issues in the past to a current situation that’s causing stress and anxiety, therapy is an effective treatment. Oftentimes, people seek out therapy when they are at their breaking point, depressed and desperate for help, or as a last-ditch effort to save their relationship. There are also plenty of people who take a more proactive approach and seek out a therapist before there is a prevalent issue. Some people are simply interested in exploring themselves through talk therapy. Either way, a great place to get started for any kind of therapy is with a therapy matching service like Advekit. Determine what you need and we’ll match you with a few therapists that could be a perfect fit!
Regardless of why you’ve decided to enter therapy, it’s perfectly normal to be nervous about going into a new situation, let alone one that will require you to discuss really personal feelings with a stranger. If you’re asking yourself “what can I expect from therapy”, read on to learn about the therapy process! We’ve explained all that you need to know before your first therapy session to help ease your mind.
The most important thing you need to have before you start your first therapy session is, of course, a therapist. What can you expect when looking for a therapist?
If you’re asking yourself “what kind of therapist do I need”, it’s important to identify why you’re seeking therapy, and what you’re looking to gain from the experience. Different therapists have specializations and areas of focus based on their education, training, and experience working with individuals or groups.
It's also important that you find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable. If you're a woman, you might be more comfortable talking to another woman and vice versa, but this isn't always the case. It could be that you prefer to speak with someone that is fresh out of school or someone that has decades of experience, or someone that is closer in age or older. Some people like a therapist who is more casual, and others feel better opening up in a more formal environment.
Knowing who you're going to be meeting with will help you know what you’re walking into when you go to your first therapy question. This can help put you at ease, and hopefully be able to be more open more quickly so you can get the most out of your first few sessions. The better you feel coming out of your first therapy session, the more likely it is for you to continue and stick with it.
Of course, you’ll want to also set your expectations appropriately when it comes to cost. Having financial surprises when in regards to your first therapy session is never good. It’s typical for people to compare counseling at different offices. It’s smart to start by checking with your insurance company to see if they cover mental health services such as meeting with a licensed therapist. If they do, then you want to see if you can first find a therapist you like that will be covered by your therapy insurance. Your insurance provider should be able to give you a list of practitioners in your area. However, if you don't have insurance that will cover any of the cost, then you'll want to start looking and comparing credentials and prices.
The cost of therapy can feel like a real burden, causing most people to go for the cheapest option possible, but that least expensive option isn't always the best. Try to find the compromise between cost savings and services. Choosing the cheapest option isn't saving you money if it's not also helping.
Once you find a therapist you think is a match, it’s important to ask a few questions to make sure your expectations are met when you arrive for your first session. Some questions you should consider asking could be:
While practitioners can service a wide variety of modalities, they often specialize or have a particular focus, just like medical physicians. Make sure you inquire if they have any topics or issues they’re particularly passionate about serving. If they are unable to explain it in a way that you can understand then keep looking for a different therapist.
If you are already experiencing the symptoms of a specific mental health condition, then ask any potential therapists what kind of experience they have in that area, and what their preference is for treatment.
Formal training is imperative when it comes to finding a mental health professional. There are too many people out there posing as counselors without the proper education and certifications. These people might refer to themselves as "life coaches,” and while they may have training in some areas, you want to make sure they have proper training and degrees in counseling or psychology from accredited universities.
If you have health insurance covering your sessions, then you’ll likely need a diagnosis for insurance purposes. This is something that your therapist will be able to discuss with you.
Your potential therapist should absolutely have a confidentiality policy. Make sure you understand what their policy states and who they are required to share information with and if you can assign and approve people with whom they can share information.
Depending on the type of therapy you choose, like cognitive behavioral therapy, your therapist may assign you work outside of your session. Of course completion of this outside homework is optional, but it will help you to put into practice the things that you need to learn to improve your situation and properly execute your treatment plan.
A first therapy session isn’t too unlike the first time you’d have a meeting with someone you didn’t know. Though, first meetings aren’t usually timed, charged by the hour, ask that you be vulnerable, and do most of the talking. To have the best experience with your first appointment, your therapist will have a lot of questions for you that you'll need to answer truthfully. But, you can expect that most therapists aren't going to dive right into difficult questions.
Depending on the exact setup of the therapist’s office, you will most likely need to complete a form with questions that will help the therapist to get to know you and why you are reaching out for therapy. This will probably be sent to you prior to your first initial session so your therapist can review and be prepared before you arrive, allowing you both to make the best use of the time during your session.
The first session will be all about easing you in to help you to start feeling comfortable. You can expect to feel pretty surprised at how quickly your guard can come down or what topics are more sensitive than you initially imagined. During that first therapy session, the therapist is going to want to get a good understanding of who you are at a baseline. This could include things like what you do for a living, how your physical health is, and what your goals are.
It might feel fairly superficial, but know that deeper discussion and breakthrough comes with time. The therapist will also discuss with you how the two of you will proceed with counseling sessions and what their plan might look like, as well as give you a chance to ask questions as well.
Remember, that during your first therapy session, and any future sessions, you should feel free to ask your therapist questions. You should know what you can expect from therapy from the very beginning. The whole point of your therapy sessions is to help you.
Now that you feel confident in what you can expect from the process of finding a therapist and therapy sessions itself, use Advekit to get matched with a mental health professional suited for you and your needs!
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.