Making your first appointment with a psychologist can be a difficult and overwhelming decision – but also an important step towards committing to your mental health and wellbeing.
To demystify the whole process, and hopefully abate some of the anxiety around that first session, here are some tips and general information about what you can expect.
Before the first session
Before you sit down for your first session, there are some considerations and steps to complete.
• Choosing the right therapist and clinic: it can help to do some quick research before making the first appointment, to give you better chance of choosing a therapist who is right for you. Most clinics have information about their clinicians on the website, such as their experience, therapeutic approaches, and styles. It is also worth noting that it is not always possible to predict exactly how you would get along with someone based on a short blurb, so don’t take too much pressure to choose the “perfect” therapist! You can also call the clinic to enquire about cost, Medicare rebates, and availabilities.
• Paperwork: Like in a doctor’s office, the clinic will provide you with some forms. This would include a consent form, which outlines terms of the service, policies around cancellations and information collection, and confidentiality. They may also ask you to provide information on your insurance, and a brief screening questionnaire that asks you about what you have been experiencing.
Although some of this sounds complicated, your clinic will be very willing to help you navigate the process. It can feel like a new experience, and it’s totally okay to ask as many questions as you need!
During the session
When you arrive for your first session, you will typically be asked to sign in and take a seat in the waiting area, until your psychologist comes over to bring you into the counselling room.
The objective of the first session is usually introductory – it is a chance for you and your therapist to get to know one another. This is an important step in helping your therapist understand what is going on for you and get an idea of how to proceed in future sessions. Additionally, they will explain matters such as confidentiality and what to expect from the therapeutic process.
Your therapist may ask questions about what brought you to therapy, how you have been feeling, and any recent significant life events. Additionally, to get a better understanding about your background, they may also want to know about your work, family, childhood, relationships, previous mental health concerns, etc. They will also want to know what your own goals are, and what you would like to get out of the therapy. It’s true that the first session may not always feel “therapeutic”, but it sets the scene for future sessions.
Sometimes, it may feel a bit strange to talk about personal matters with someone you have just met. Being that vulnerable, especially if it is your first time in such a situation, can be daunting. Remember that it is okay to go at a pace that you are comfortable with, and your therapist is interested in getting to you know so that they can find the best way to help you. Ideally, you should feel free to express yourself just how you want to, as the therapeutic space is free of judgement or scrutiny.
In addition to your therapist getting to know you, this first appointment is also a chance for you to assess if they are the right fit for you. Some things to look out for include:
• Are they present with you, and checking in with you?
• Do you feel safe, accepted, and respected?
• Do you think they can help you learn?
You can also ask them for feedback, about their therapeutic style, and whether they think they can be of help to you. Of course, these things are not easy to tell on the very first meeting, and it may take a few sessions to gauge how you feel about the therapist being a right fit for you.
After the session
As you might have done during the session, also check in with yourself after the session. You can be honest with yourself about how you felt that session went, how you feel about the rest of the therapeutic process, and the therapist. As mentioned before, the first session often isn’t “therapeutic”, so don’t be surprised you don’t start feeling better right away. You may feel relieved after talking to someone, but it usually takes more sessions to see longer-term changes.
You might find yourself overwhelmed or tired after the first session – this is normal! Certainly, starting to face some of your more difficult feelings and experiences is hard work. Make sure you take some time to nurture yourself and build your ’emotional reservoir’ by taking time to relax, unwind, or engage in an enjoyable hobby. If you do notice that you are feeling unsettled, you are more than welcome to let your therapist know about this. They can help you identify and address any concerns, to help ensure that you are getting what you want from the therapeutic process!
Although it sounds like a lot, you can always just take your sessions one at a time and reassess the value after each one. Give yourself this time to engage in the process at your own pace. And most importantly, don’t forget to acknowledge your strength in deciding to begin this journey to self-empowerment.