How to Approach Your First Therapy Session

How do I know if I’ve found the right therapist?

 Illustrated by Marcy Gooberman

Illustrated by Marcy Gooberman

You’ve decided to go to therapy! Even better, you’ve identified a therapist you’re interested in and have set up an appointment. Now, how can you get the most out of your first session?

Here are some tips that can help you feel more prepared.

1. Identify Your Goals

Before your first session, give yourself some time to reflect on what you’d like to accomplish in therapy. Why did you decide that now is an important time to begin therapy? What do you hope to achieve in therapy?

For some people, goals may be specific, measurable changes in daily life. For example, perhaps you’d like to learn coping techniques that will result in you experiencing fewer panic attacks. For others, goals can be more abstract. You may want therapy to provide an intentional space for reflection and for building self-awareness around your thoughts and emotions. Being able to communicate your intentions will help your therapist in choosing an approach that will support your goals.

2. Ask Questions

What do you need to know about your therapist and about treatment to feel comfortable beginning work with this person? You may want to ask your therapist what treatment for you will look like and how long they tend to work with clients. You may have questions about their approach to therapy. You may simply want to let them know that you feel a little anxious about beginning therapy. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or share information that you feel is important.

3. Assess the Connection

The connection between you and your therapist is arguably the most important component of therapy. You deserve to feel supported and well-regarded by your therapist. Sure, a therapist will likely challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone during the course of therapy, but you should feel safe and encouraged by them in those moments.

Finding this connection can be a tricky element of therapy. Similar to going on a first date with someone you met on a dating app, you may find that the person who looked great on paper doesn’t actually click with you in real life. Luckily, you only need one session of therapy to tell whether a therapist is going to be a good fit.

Check in with yourself as you leave the session. Did you feel that the conversation flowed? Did you feel acknowledged and understood by the therapist? Are they someone you’d enjoy sitting down with and talking to again? If the answer to any of these questions is no, look for someone else.

4. Assess the Approach

Once you’ve established that you and your therapist have a positive connection, you can decide whether you feel that their approach to therapy will work for you. Every therapist will conduct therapy in a slightly different way. Some will be very direct and give advice. Some will speak less often and rarely offer guidance. Some will be firm and authoritative while others will be gentle. Some therapists may focus a lot on your childhood and your family. Others may be very solution-oriented and will focus on the future.

Think about what approach works best for your personality and goals. If you are very action-oriented, you may enjoy a directive therapist. However, this style could feel imposing to someone who wants a more relaxed space to talk.

It can be helpful to combine your observations of their approach in session with concrete information about their therapy philosophy. You can ask your therapist questions to get a clearer picture. Here are some questions that can help:

  • What type of therapy do you practice?
  • What does a typical session look like?
  • How do you know when progress is being made?
  • How do you know when someone is done with therapy?

5. Trust Yourself

If you find yourself feeling disappointed, uneasy, or ambivalent after the first therapy session, remind yourself that this is normal. It can take awhile to find the right therapist. You are doing yourself a favor by checking in with your feelings and not sticking with someone who didn’t quite get you.

Remember that as the client in therapy, you have the control. The first session is a chance for you to evaluate whether this therapist will be a good fit for you. You get to commit to therapy when you’ve found a person that makes you feel safe to open up. Wait for that therapist whose office you leave feeling a little lighter and a little more hopeful.

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Louise is an associate marriage and family therapist who writes about sex and relationships. Want more juicy facts about sex from a feminist, research-based, perspective? Check out more of her writing and follow her on Instagram @swoon.sex.ed.

 

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