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Pulling Back The Curtain: What To Expect During Your First Therapy Appointment

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of folks who’ve wanted to seek therapy for weeks, months, sometimes even years, but something has gotten in the way.  Often, that something is uncertainty about what to expect during the initial appointment.  Have similar thoughts and feelings kept you from scheduling that first visit?  Read on to learn more about what to expect.

  • There will be forms:  Much like any doctor’s appointment, there will be some degree of paperwork for you to complete before you see your therapist.  Typically, there is an informed consent, which explains the risks and benefits of talk therapy, confidentiality, and office policies.  There will also be a privacy statement, which explains your rights and protections with regards to your health information.  Your therapist will ask for some basic demographic information as well.  Of course initial forms vary from therapist to therapist, but these are the basics.
  • There will be questions:  Lots and lots of questions.  A thorough assessment can take anywhere from one to three sessions (and really should be ongoing throughout the therapeutic process).  During this assessment, your therapist will be asking questions designed to help her understand the problems that bring you to treatment, whether or not she is knowledgeable enough in that area to be helpful, and what an appropriate treatment plan might look like.
  • There will be questions that you relate with, and some that you don’t:  I ask everyone who steps foot in my office if they’ve ever considered or attempted suicide, if they’ve ever injured themselves without meaning to die, and various other questions that may not appear to be specifically related to their reason for coming to see me.  Sometimes clients are taken aback by these questions, and I get it!  You’ve come in to talk with someone about your fear of driving on the highway and now she’s asking about your sleep, appetite, and sex life?!  What gives?!  As psychologists, as therapists, we don’t have blood tests, or monitors that can tell us what’s going on inside someone.  These questions are the tools that I have at my disposal to gauge the amount of psychological pain that you’re in, much like taking your temperature or blood pressure at your physicians office.
  • You should be deciding whether or not this therapist is a good fit for you: Sometimes it can be so difficult to make that initial phone call, that folks settle for therapists who are less than great fits for them and their problem.  As your therapist is asking you questions, you also have the right (and absolutely should) to ask your therapist how much experience he has treating the problem you are coming to him for, how he typically works with clients with this problem, and any other questions that might make you feel more comfortable.  Goodness of fit is important.  This is your mental health, shop around for someone you feel comfortable with!
  • There should be some discussion about what comes next:  Typically, as I’m wrapping up my initial appointments, I schedule a follow-up appointment, and explain what will happen next.  Sometimes I inform my clients that our next session with focus on further assessment of their current difficulties.  Other times, I explain that we will discuss diagnosis (if there is one) and treatment planning during our follow up appointment.  Finally, there are some times when I must explain to potential clients that I cannot provide the treatment that they need at this time, for example, if it’s in an area that I do not have expertise in.  When this happens, I either provide referral information for more appropriate professionals then and there, or do some research and follow up with referral information.

Hopefully this post has demystified a bit of the initial therapy appointment.  Of course, all therapists are different, and conduct initial appointments differently, so there really is no 100% road map as to what a session might look like, but they tend to include the points above.  Whether you’ve been thinking about scheduling an initial appointment for weeks, months, or even years, now is the time to make that first call!  If you’re having an urgent need, help is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-8255, or text HOME to 741741 to text with a crisis counselor.

Dr. Scrivani specializes in the Cognitive Behavioral treatment of anxiety and related disorders, behavioral parent training, and provides tele-mental health services to residents of New York, Florida, and internationally. Call (888) 535-5671 or email [email protected] to set up a free consultation.  Visit my website for more information.

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