What to expect during your first therapy session

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It’s normal to be nervous about your first therapy session – but there’s no need to be. We answer some common questions to help you get started.

Seeing a therapist is a significant step in the right direction when you want to look after your mental health. But it can take a fair amount of courage to sit down on that couch, or chair, for your very first session. “It is really normal to be nervous,” reassures clinical psychologist Dr Liesje Donkin.

Not knowing what to expect, many first-timers worry about being judged. However, therapists are probably the least judgemental people you come across, says Dr Donkin.

In the first session, the therapist will want to get to know you. They may ask you questions around what life is like for you, what did it used to be like, and how would you like it to be.

“You’re telling your story, and you’re the expert in yourself,” adds Dr Donkin. “Nobody knows the answers to these questions better than you – so you’re actually walking in there with a bit of an upper hand. The questions are really to help the therapist understand who you are as a person, and to work with you to develop the best plan for you.”

You might like to ask your own questions too – to see how you can work together.

So how do you book a session?

If you are still at the stage of finding a professional to see, it can help to ask your GP or your friends for recommendations. You can also look into the kinds of therapy out there, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Psychodynamic Therapy. Many therapists will call you to talk about what you are wanting help for and to see if you are a good fit for one another, before booking an appointment. After that, “It is as simple as turning up for your first session.”

What if you don’t find the right therapist?

“If you’re finding that things are not going well with your therapist, you need to talk to them about it,” says Dr Donkin. While this can be a hard thing to bring up, letting your therapist know what works, and doesn’t work, for you can get your sessions back on track. The therapist might be able to give you more of the techniques you want, and less of the ones you don’t, or offer a completely different style going forward.

If things really aren’t going well and you’d like to change therapists, Dr Donkin still encourages talking to your therapist – so they can receive your feedback and refer you to someone else who may be more suited to your needs.

You can also ask your GP to refer you to someone else. The main thing is not to give up. “There’s going to be someone out there that’s going to be the right therapist for you, they’re going to get you and get what you need, and their style will match what you find helpful.”


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