So you've decided it's time to give therapy a shot. Now what? Preparing for your first session with a new therapist can be a bit nerve wracking. Sharing your pain and vulnerabilities with a perfect stranger can feel foreign and even daunting. If you notice yourself feeling nervous, don't worry, it is totally normal. But remember that therapy is an investment in your most important asset: yourself! So do your best to push those nerves aside so you can focus on getting the most out the experience. Below are three tips on how to prepare for and maximize your first session with a new therapist.
(Still not sure therapy is for you? Check out my top five reasons why everyone should go to therapy.)
1) You Have Nothing To Lose -- Be Honest
While compassionate and caring, the therapist is not your "friend." The relationship with your therapist is different than any other relationship you will ever have. You are guaranteed complete confidentiality and offered an environment free of judgment or criticism. It is structured this way purposefully to allow for the kind of total emotional transparency that might otherwise feel unsafe. So while it is normal to want to censor information when talking with someone new, this contradicts the whole purpose of the therapeutic relationship. Your therapist is not there to judge you, he or she is there to support you in your pain (and even help you diminish the shame you feel). You are not going to get the most out of the process if you are not being totally transparent. So even though it might feel a bit like swimming upstream, push yourself to be brutally honest with your therapist so you two can address the real issues head on. If you don't, you may be wasting your own time and money.
2) Come With A Direction In Mind, But Be Open To A Detour
Think about what you most want to get out of the process before you arrive for your first session. Your therapist will work with you to determine what your goals in working together will be, but don't rely on the professional to do all the work for you -- this therapy is for you and about you. Remember that you are the expert on your own experience and that expertise is essential in ensuring that you are on the right track. At the same time, be open to seeing new things and considering other directions. The beauty about therapy is that the objective lens of the therapist, paired psychological expertise, will allow him or her to see some things that are not visible to you and together you can work to co-construct a plan that best meets your needs.
3) Focus On How The Relationship Feels
The largest predictor of the effectiveness of therapy has to do with client-related factors such as willingness to change, ego strength, access to social support, etc. The second largest factor is the quality of the relationship with the therapist. So needless to say, ensuring you get the most out of the experience has a lot to do with the relationship you build with this person. Though it is normal to feel uncomfortable at times during the first session, overall you should feel heard, understood, accepted, and safe. You should feel that this is someone you can imagine building a strong rapport with. Hopefully, the therapist will check in to make sure it feels like a good fit for you. If in the end you leave feeling judged or unsafe, it's time to go back to the drawing board and find another clinician to work with. If you need some guidance with finding a better fit, check out my top 5 tips for finding a great therapist.
So now hopefully you are feeling a little more ready to embark on that first appointment. Keep an open mind, take a deep breath, and take some risks. Good luck!