First sessions, like first everything-s, can induce a lot of anticipatory anxiety, no matter how much you look forward to them.
This article, based on my experience of being on both sides of the “encounter”, can perhaps shed some light on what you can expect.
When you reach a therapist’s office, you’re likely to find yourself in a waiting area. Hopefully, this is a relaxed space for you to collect your thoughts in.
Upon entering the main office – which should happen spot on the appointed time, you should find yourself in another comforting room. You might find different seating arrangements. Sometimes you’ll be seated across a desk from each other, sometimes you’ll sit opposite each other over a coffee table, and other times you’ll be on a couch with your therapist seated behind you, out of your line of sight.
Decor wise, I can only hope that you find soothing ambient light, with scattered pieces of art, or perhaps some books. Ideally, a clock or time piece will exist somewhere in the room, inconspicuously. If you’re consulting a psychotherapist in a hospital, you are unlikely to find any of this. The physical situation will be much like consulting a regular doctor – a common waiting room, a generic office space, and you’ll be seated across a consulting table. This does not necessarily reflect on the therapist. It’s just the reality of a hospital setting.
Regardless, your therapist should welcome you, and introduce themselves briefly. They will then ask you why you’ve chosen to see a therapist (and perhaps why them in particular), and what are the problems that you’re facing. They’ll also try and understand your background a bit – where you come from, significant people in your life, and whatever else seems relevant to your current concerns. For example – how long have you had this concern, what have you done in the past to make yourself feel better, how is it hampering your life, or simply – how does it make you feel.
This is called an intake interview, and many therapists give a longer first session to get a comprehensive idea of you.
In the last 10 minutes or so, the therapist will tell you more about themselves – what school of thought they come from, how that will help in your particular case, what can you look forward to in therapy, and what are their expectations of you. For example, they can expect you to be on time each time, or perhaps do some home activities that they prescribe.
They will also then discuss the fee with you – how much, how often, modes of payment. Private practitioners often take cash only, though hospitals of course take cards. Currently, no medical insurance policies that I know of cover psychological therapy, though please tell me if you know of any!
At this point, you can also ask any questions you might have, including those about the fee. Freely tell the therapist if you can’t afford it – they might help you out a little. But please be honest about this.
Therapists put in an hour of their energy with you alone, and they deserve to make a fair living out of that.
Also, I encourage you to ask them where they studied, what they studied, how much experience they have, if they’ve dealt with concerns like yours before, and what is their stand on medication. If you therapist hesitates or has ‘ego hassles’ in answering any or all of these questions, please feel free to walk right out of the room.
At the end of the day though, finding a ‘good’ therapist, is like finding a best friend.
You’ll have to spend some time with each other to know if you truly understand each other, and your gut will help you greatly in understanding this. And here’s the best part about therapy – you can and probably should tell your therapist what you find works for you in the session, and what just doesn’t feel right! They’ll help you explore it better – and then you can make a more informed decision on your course of action!
That’s it! Decide if you liked them, liked what they asked and how they spoke to you about you, and accordingly come back for another appointment!