Congratulations! You’ve decided to prioritize your mental health and see what therapy has to offer—that’s great. You should be proud of yourself… even if you’re feeling a little uncertain about this unfamiliar territory. First and foremost, it’s okay to be nervous. “Taking the steps to look for and then contact a therapist for the first time takes a lot of courage and determination in itself,” Tiffany Towers, Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, explains. “Taking and keeping an initial appointment can feel like another big hurdle, and then, all of a sudden, you are in a room with a stranger and being asked lots of personal questions.”
Yep, perfectly normal to feel a little uneasy. Especially if this is all happening for the first time. So, don’t be too hard on yourself for having those feelings. Furthermore, it takes some time to build trust with anybody, even in a therapist-patient relationship. You can’t and shouldn’t expect it to happen immediately, but instead, know that every session helps solidify that bond. And as a consequence, your walls will start to come down. Here are a few things Towers says you can remind yourself to ensure a successful therapeutic journey:
- Time with your therapist exists to help you become a healthier, happier you.
- Therapy is a safe place to release fear and shame so that you can start learning and growing in a more confident, resilient, and authentic way.
- Your therapist is not waiting to judge you and cannot help you if you don’t share what is going on.
Now, in addition to keeping the above points in mind, you can take several steps to be more open and honest with your counselor. Gwendolyn Nelson-Terry, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, says the following tips will help you to feel more comfortable during your sessions:
1) Make a list of talking points. “Make a list of things you want to talk with your therapist about before your first appointment,” Gwendolyn advises. “Bring that list with you, that way if you find yourself struggling with knowing what to talk about, you can refer back to the list. Keep making a list each week in between sessions to help you remember some of the stuff that came up for you during the week. Don’t just write short bullet points, add little notes to help yourself remember what you were feeling or how that impacted you. You can also add any questions you have to the list.
2) Share your concerns. Gwendolyn says it’s important that you also share your concerns with your counselor. “If you are worried about confidentiality or have questions about what a therapist will do with any information you share with them, ask,” she says. “Your therapist will be more than happy to review the confidentiality requirements for your state and can give you an idea of times, if any, where he/she may have to share information that you provide to them.”
3) Tell them if you need help opening up. Additionally, do what you can to help them help you. “Tell your therapist how you are feeling. If you are not sure what to share, not sure of the words you want to use, unclear about what feelings you are experiencing, let your therapist know,” Gwendolyn explains. “Your therapist is trained in asking questions to help you figure some of that stuff out. Additionally, your therapist might have a great intervention that they use to take the pressure off of talking and allows you to express yourself in a different way, like the art of choosing images. Let your therapist know if you are having a hard time sharing in session, this will let them know you need a little help opening up.
4) Challenge yourself. “Part of coming to therapy is stepping outside of your comfort zone. If you are someone who never talks about your feelings, make it a goal to share one feeling during the session,” says Gwendolyn. “Or, if you are someone who has never had the experience of sharing about your life, pick one thing to share about your week. See what it feels like to share, and if it is scary or hard, let your therapist know. Your experience is valuable information in helping your therapist know and understand how best to help you feel better.”