What to Expect Your First Time in Counseling or Therapy

This post is a little different than my typical travel or fitness blog–but it’s something lots of you have requested, and I think it’s important–so let’s get after it.

Counseling and therapy are two words that make lots of people cringe, shrink back, or feel embarrassment. Few people want to admit they actively talk to someone about their mental struggles and life issues. But guess what? One in four Americans will see a counselor at some point in their lives, and four out of four Americans should prioritize their mental health in some way.

PS: I’m part of that one in four. And I LOVE my current therapist. She’s the bees knees.

If you’ve been thinking about counseling and therapy for a while, or if it’s something someone has suggested you check out, you probably have some questions–let’s answer them.

Disclosure: I’m not a medical professional. If you need serious medical care, please seek one out.

Who Should See a Therapist

When you break your leg, it’s a no-brainer you should visit a doctor. Having eye problems? Call an optometrist. Allergies acting up? There’s an allergist for that.

So how do you know when therapy might be right for you?

Here’s the deal: Anyone and everyone can benefit from meeting with a mental health professional–in this case a therapist. You don’t need to have any diagnosable disorder or major “problem” to seek out counseling. In fact, a lot of people go simply because they care about their mind and emotional health. That’s reason enough.

A few more reasons you might decide to try therapy:

  • Major life transition: New job, big move, recent break-up
  • Grief: Death, illness, loss of employment
  • Stress: Job pressures, roommate troubles, money issues
  • Sleep issues: Insomnia, extreme constant fatigue
  • Just to check up: Sometimes, it’s good just to do a little preventative maintenance

And of course, if you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, disordered eating, suicidal thoughts, etc. therapy is most certainly a great step toward healing.

Finding a Therapist

The first step, after making the decision to go, is finding a therapist that 1. is covered by your insurance and 2. you mesh well with.

This isn’t always an easy task. Insurance providers can be a bit tricky about mental health coverage, so do your due diligence and digging before making an appointment.

Here’s what I suggest:

  • Check out your provider’s website and see if they have a list of professionals in their coverage.
  • If there’s no list available, give them a call and find out what the deal is.
  • Get on Google and type in “Therapists in __your city here__” and write down the names and contact information of any that catch your eye.
  • Read reviews. Yes–people review their therapists.
  • Good Therapy is a great resource as well.
  • Narrow your search down to 2 or 3 and give each office a call. Be honest about your goals for therapy and tell them what type of therapist you’d be most comfortable with: age, gender, background, etc.
  • Check and double check your insurance coverage.
  • Go!

Your First Counseling Appointment

You’ve done the hard part–finding a counselor and scheduling an appointment. Now all that’s left is showing up.

Fair warning: You’ll probably be nervous. That’s totally okay. What I’ve found helpful when seeing a new counselor is to write everything down that I want to talk about: Goals, scenarios I want to discuss, concerns with past counselors, etc. This way I’m less likely to forget.

When you first arrive, you’ll check in and fill out some paperwork. It’s a good idea to show up a bit early to leave enough time for this. Bring your insurance card and a photo I.D.

Most counselors treat the first appointment more like a “get to know you” rather than an actual appointment. You’ll probably spend time answering these questions:

  • Basic background info: Family, job, friends, relationship, past mental health history
  • Goals for therapy: Increase confidence, work through trauma/stress, have a safe space to talk, feel better in general
  • General concerns
  • Medical background

Don’t be surprised if your therapist asks you to dig deeper into certain answers–this means they’re listening and making connections. Also, they might be taking notes. Don’t be intimidated by this–they simply see a lot of patients and want to make sure they don’t forget what you’re telling them.

Appointments last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. I find that time flies by and I can barely shut up when my appointment is up. Whoops *shoulder shrug emoji*

How to Know You’ve Found a Good Therapist

Not all therapists are created equal. I’ve worked with ones I absolutely adore and I’ve also had a pretty negative experience before.

Therapists are like shoes–you’ve got to keep trying them on until you find one that fits.

A good therapist will:

  • Ask what you need/want from them as far as support, opinions, etc.
  • Listen, listen, listen
  • Ask open-ended questions that make you think harder about your situation/take a different perspective
  • Make you feel comfortable and relaxed
  • Be easy to talk to and most likely make you laugh a few times
  • Show you respect and be sensitive to your situation
  • Not rush you out of the room when your appointment is up or cut you short
  • Be honest and open with you

Other Basic Info

  • You probably won’t lie down on a couch like you see in movies…
  • You’ll want to be as comfortable as possible, so bring whatever helps you feel at ease. Always cold? Pack a sweater. Fidget a lot? Bring something for your hands.
  • How you feel after your session can vary. Don’t be surprised if you’re exhausted, or if you’re invigorated, or if you feel confused. It’s all totally ok.
  • Therapy only works if you want it to. This means you have to commit to being open, honest, and doing your homework. That’s right–you might get homework.

The fact that you’re reading this means you care enough about your mental and emotional health that you’re willing to invest time, energy, and money into bettering them. And that my friends, is absolutely amazing.

If you need another set of ears to talk to on your journey, I’m always here.

Postive vibes,

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