If you are considering seeking support for your mental health, you may be wondering what to expect from therapy or how to prepare for therapy. The first therapy session can be a source of anxiety for some people. If you are nervous about your first therapy session, that’s normal. Remember that the goal of the first session is for the therapist to get to know you. A well-trained therapist will do that by asking questions about your life, your background, and what brought you to therapy.
A therapist or counselor’s role is to offer you insights into your experiences, advice on how to handle issues, and evidence-based treatment for mental health conditions. Successful therapy is not only supported by a well-trained therapist- but it also largely depends on cooperation and investment from you, the client. Knowing what to expect from therapy can help you better prepare and be open to the experience.
You and your therapist will discuss your goals regarding what you want to get out of therapy. This will help to focus your sessions and give you perspective on how you want to grow. These goals may need to change over time depending on circumstances, so it’s good practice to keep checking in about them as the therapeutic relationship continues.
If you’re wondering what to talk about in therapy, it’s helpful to understand that people go to therapy for all sorts of reasons: getting treatment for mental health conditions, healing from trauma, working out conflicts, improving their relationships, or just having a safe, neutral space to talk about their life. You may be looking for support managing symptoms of a chronic mental health issue like depression, or you may want an outside perspective on a difficult relationship in your life. Whatever your reason for seeking therapy, it is valid, and your therapist is there to support you. If you are in therapy for a specific event or set of symptoms, they may start by asking about what may have preceded those things. For example, “When is the earliest time you remember feeling that way?” is a common question, so that they can start to get at the root of your specific issue.
The success of your therapy will depend primarily on:
What’s important to know is that even if a therapy experience does not have the outcomes we want, just the act of trying it out can be helpful. Learning to advocate for yourself is a crucial skill, especially when navigating mental health care.
Depending on your personal therapeutic goals and health insurance parameters, therapy can be a short-term program with a set number of sessions or can be a long-term commitment. A short-term commitment may be for dealing with a specific event or getting advice on a particular issue. A longer commitment is often helpful for managing symptoms of chronic mental health issues like depression, or for having a reliable space for personal growth over time.
If your therapy is not legally mandated, you can choose to leave therapy at any time. There are many reasons you may choose to leave. Some are practical, like the financial or time commitment, or if you or your therapist moves. Some are based on your progress—you may feel it’s time to end therapy because you’ve reached your goals, or you may decide to leave a particular therapist because they are not meeting your needs.
If you do not feel like therapy is working, talk with your therapist about it and try to create a better treatment plan. Speaking with your therapist about why you feel like treatment isn’t working not only can help make the treatment more effective, but it can help you practice valuable communication skills. There are some circumstances where it’s better to take a break altogether or seek another therapist. Remember, you have the right to choose a therapist that best fits your needs, and this means leaving a therapist if they do not respect your boundaries and needs. If you choose to leave because you are unhappy with your therapist, it’s a good idea to talk to them about why so they can learn lessons they can then bring to potential new clients.