Going To Your First Appointment
It’s normal to feel nervous when you head off to your first psychotherapy appointment. But preparing ahead of time and knowing what to expect can help calm your nerves.
WHAT SHOULD I BRING?
A typical psychotherapy session lasts 45 to 50 minutes. To make the most of your time, make a list of the points you want to cover in your first session and what you want to work on in psychotherapy. Be prepared to share information about what’s bringing you to the psychotherapist. Even a vague idea of what you want to accomplish can help you and your psychotherapist proceed efficiently and effectively.
If you’ve been referred by another professional, such as a physician or attorney, notes about why they did so can be helpful. If a teacher suggested that your child undergo psychotherapy, you might bring in report cards or notes from his or her teacher. Your psychotherapist can also call these professionals for additional information if you give written permission. Records from previous psychotherapy or psychological testing can also help your new psychotherapist get a better sense of you.
If you’re on any medications, jot down which medications and what dosage so your psychotherapist can have that information.
It can be difficult to remember everything that happens during a psychotherapy session. A notebook can help you capture your psychotherapist’s questions or suggestions and your own questions and ideas. Jotting a few things down during your session can help you stay engaged in the process.
Most people have more than a single session of psychotherapy. Bring your calendar so you can schedule your next appointment before you leave your psychotherapist’s office.
You’ll also need to bring some form of payment. If you’ll be using your health insurance to cover your psychotherapy, bring along your insurance card so your psychotherapist will be able to bill your insurer. (Some insurers require psychotherapists to check photo IDs, so bring that along, too.) If you’ll be paying for psychotherapy out of pocket, bring along a credit card, chequebook or cash.
WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT?
For your first session, your psychotherapist may ask you to come in a little early to fill out paperwork if you haven’t already done so.
Don’t worry that you won’t know what to do once the session actually begins. It’s normal to feel a little anxious in the first few sessions. Psychotherapists have experience setting the tone and getting things started. They are trained to guide each session in effective ways to help you get closer to your goals. In fact, the first session might seem like a game of 20 questions.
Sitting face to face with you, your psychotherapist could start off by acknowledging the courage it takes to start psychotherapy. He or she may also go over logistical matters, such as fees, how to make or cancel an appointment, and confidentiality, if he or she hasn’t already done so by phone.
Then the psychotherapist may ask a question like, “What brought you here today?” or “What made you decide to come in now rather than a month or a year ago?” It helps to identify your problem, even if you’re not sure why you have it or how to handle it. For example, you might feel angry or sad without knowing what’s causing your feelings or how to stop feeling that way. If the problem is too painful to talk about, the psychotherapist shouldn’t push you to say more than you’re comfortable sharing until you get to know each other better. It’s OK for you to say that you are not ready to talk about something just yet.
Your psychotherapist will also want to know about your own and your family’s history of psychological problems such as depression, anxiety or similar issues. You’ll also explore how your problem is affecting your everyday life. Your psychotherapist will ask questions like whether you’ve noticed any changes in your sleeping habits, appetite or other behaviours. A psychotherapist will also want to know what kind of social support you have, so he or she will also ask about your family, friends and co-workers.
It’s important not to rush this process, which may take more than one session. While guiding you through the process, your psychotherapist will let you set the pace when it comes to telling your story. As you gain trust in your psychotherapist and the process, you may be willing to share things you didn’t feel comfortable answering at first.
Once your psychotherapist has a full history, the two of you will work together to create a treatment plan. This collaborative goal-setting is important, because both of you need to be invested in achieving your goals. Your psychotherapist may write down the goals and read them back to you, so you’re both clear about what you’ll be working on. Some psychotherapists even create a treatment contract that lays out the purpose of treatment, its expected duration and goals, with both the individual’s and psychotherapist’s responsibilities outlined.
At the end of your first session, the psychotherapist may also have suggestions for immediate action. If you’re depressed, for example, the psychotherapist might suggest seeing a physician to rule out any underlying medical conditions, such as a thyroid disorder. If you have chronic pain, you may need physical therapy, medication and help for insomnia as well as psychotherapy.
By the end of the first few sessions, you should have a new understanding of your problem, a game plan and a new sense of hope.