Don’t worry—it’s totally normal to feel nervous about starting therapy. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit around helplessly awaiting the first session. You can take some proactive steps to prepare for it, which will not only help to lessen those nerves but make for a successful first meeting with your therapist. Don’t take my word for it, hear the following counselors and therapists out:
1) Give credit where it’s due.
First and foremost, give yourself a pat on the back for taking this leap. “Meeting with a therapist takes some courage because you’re going to meet with someone you don’t know and share your inner world with them,” Caitlin Magidson, M.S., NCC, LCPC explains. She goes on to say that your mind might be busy with questions about how the process will unfold, but that’s okay. You’ve taken the first humungous step, and you deserve to celebrate that.
2) Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Also, don’t shy away from asking your therapist questions prior to your first session—doing so often lessens nerves and better prepares you for what’s soon to come. “I encourage individuals who are seeking counseling to ask key questions regarding the first session when scheduling your counseling session,” says Danielle Boose, mental health professional. “You can ask your potential therapist… What can I expect during our first session? Will I have the opportunity to begin addressing my issue for coming to counseling in the first visit? What’s your counseling style.”
3) Find comfort in the fact that everything is kept confidential.
“Remember that everything is kept confidential,” says Emily Mendez, a former private practice psychotherapist. “Therapists are bound by strict federal privacy regulations. They cannot release information about you to anyone without your written permission. There is one exception to this rule and that is if the therapist believes that you might harm yourself or others. Then, they have a professional duty to prevent harm or contact the authorities.”
4) Think about what you want to achieve.
It’s also a good idea to think about what you want to get out of therapy before meeting with your counselor. “A question that you may be asked is, ‘What do you want to achieve through therapy?’ So you might want to give that a little thought,” says Arlene B. Englander, licensed clinical social worker. “The clearer you are, the easier it will be for the therapist to be able to know whether they’ll be able to help you achieve your goals.”
5) Block out a window of time before and after the session.
Dr. Claudia Luiz suggests you put a time cushion around your session, so as to make room for introspection: “If you can, take extra time off before and after the session so you can allow yourself to enter into an introspective space more deeply,” Luiz recommends. “You might be feeling more intense emotions as you prepare to open up, and this can produce cortisol, fight or flight, and an increase in your tension. Stay hydrated, and breathe,” she says.
6) Calibrate your expectations.
Additionally, keep in mind that this is the first of many sessions—which will likely revolve around clerical stuff, and your therapist getting a feel for you as their new client. “The intake appointment often is more helpful to the therapist than it is to the patient,” Licensed Psychologist Helene Laurenti explains. “The therapist will have his/her own questions, and may gather a little bit of information across a variety of topics to get to know you. The therapist can ultimately help you tackle your main presenting problem the best if they know how you operate with other issues, too.”
7) Focus on the fact that your counselor is there to help you.
“The best way to prepare for your first counseling session is to focus on the fact that the counselor/therapist is there to help you,” says Psychotherapist Jeffrey Von Glahn. “That person is not there to expose your frailties, your weaknesses, your mistakes; to make you more fearful/anxious than you are already feeling. Perhaps most important is to know that once you open your mouth and start talking, your initial fears/anxieties will start to decrease, and rather quickly.”