• Rebecca

Dreading the First Therapy Session

You may have assumptions about therapy that keep you from seeking help. I hope to help you to feel more comfortable about booking that first appointment.

I still remember my first counseling appointment. I was sitting in the waiting room (waiting) with several other people. I was fourteen years old and biting my fingernails. I had mixed feelings about being there. I wanted to talk to someone, but not this old lady I was about to see. How could she possibly relate to me? I rolled my eyes as I imagined what she was going to say to me. Somehow she sounded just like my annoying homeroom teacher, even though I hadn't met this therapist yet. I felt as if I was at the dentist's office.

I was terrified that someone I knew would walk into the waiting room and see that I was waiting for therapy. I didn't think about the fact that he or she would have been there to see a counselor too.

There was a door in the back of the waiting room that led to the therapists' offices. While waiting for my first appointment, I thought the hallway must lead to secret offices where therapists questioned clients until they pulled the answers to their problems out of them. Like a root canal.

Each time the mysterious door opened, a name was called and someone in the waiting room quietly got up and walked into the enchanted hallway. Some of them even smiling as they passed through.

My name was finally called by the old lady I didn't want to talk to. Her office wasn't mysterious. I actually found her office to be peaceful. The session went faster than I thought it would. She didn't sound like my homeroom teacher. She listened to me; I mean she really listened to me. I never bumped into someone else I knew in the waiting room the whole time I saw my therapist. I attended my first therapy session without issue. In fact, my first appointment in counseling was better than I expected, and my therapist understood me a great deal.

Making an appointment with a therapist might feel like visiting the dentist. There are so many reasons not to go to therapy. You may say to yourself, “Therapy costs too much time and money. How can I tell a stranger my deepest secrets? Therapy might work for my aunt Betty, but it is not for me. I'm fine, I don't need help”.

If one of the above statements (or a statement like it) sounds familiar to you, I want you to know you are not alone. Our culture is full of messages that tell us that we should never ask for help. We login to social media to find posts from friends and family telling us how wonderful their lives are. We go to school, work or even church only to hear how others are doing so great in the world. We stand in line at the grocery store with magazines full of seemingly perfect people. We dare not tell anyone that our lives are not perfect.

In my opinion, social media is like a live magazine. We can post the best and most interesting parts of our lives, and keep our deepest secrets hidden from those who breeze through our pages (especially those who might share our posts as gossip). The truth is that no one is perfect, and we all need help sometimes.

Making the first appointment is difficult indeed! You might already have an image of therapy in your head. Do you picture yourself sitting across from a stranger who is going to analyze you or tell you where you went wrong? Maybe he or she will point out how things could have been different, if only you had made other choices in your life. Does this sound like you?

An experienced and trained therapist does not look for your failures, rather he or she will want to help you to see your strengths. You may discuss with your therapist what you deem as failures, but the therapist can help you understand your experiences and explore how to move beyond them. A therapist does not gossip. In fact, we are regulated by licensing boards that ensure your information is kept confidential.*

The truth is that therapy does cost time and money. Therapy will also feel uncomfortable, at least in the beginning. We can help you through that though. In general, I recommend seeing a therapist three to four times before deciding to stay or go. I believe that your experience will probably be smoother than you anticipate, and it most likely won't hurt like a root canal!

You will not know for sure if a therapist is right for you until you meet them in person. If you are still unsure, talk to your therapist about your feelings. Usually, she or he can change something to make the session better. If you have voiced your concerns and sessions are not improving, try to understand what does and does not work with your current therapist, and then use this information to look for a therapist that fits your needs better.

Below are some questions you can ask yourself and your therapist to determine who might be a good fit for you.

Questions to ask yourself

  • What is keeping me from making the first appointment?

  • Do I have any assumptions about therapy? If so, what are they?

  • Am I willing to put aside my assumptions long enough to see if therapy can help me?

  • What kind of personality am I most comfortable with? (humorous, serious, structured, laid back, talkative, a good listener, etc.)

  • Am I willing to put the time and effort into therapy for my own health?

Questions to ask the therapist

  • What license(s) do you hold? -- A therapist should have one of the following credentials: LCSW, LPC, LMFT, PhD, PsyD

  • Do you have experience treating my symptoms or problem? -- Find a therapist that has specialized training and experience with the problems you are seeking help for.

  • What is your style of therapy? -- Each therapist has his or her own style of therapy, ask how she or he interacts with clients in session.

  • What model(s) of therapy do you use? -- Therapists are trained in different models of therapy. Some models are structured, while others are free flowing. In addition, some models are proven to treat specific problems better than others. Discuss with your therapist what type of therapy is best for your issues.

In my experience, therapists are usually happy to answer all of your questions or at least explore them with you. Additionally, they are often willing to help you find another therapist, when it is in your best interest.

* Therapists are legally required to respond to clients that are at risk of harming themselves or others. This could mean that your information will be shared with others to keep you or another person safe. In addition, if you use your insurance benefits for therapy, your records can be audited and read by your insurance company. Your therapist should review these exceptions to confidentiality with you during your first session.

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