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5 Tips For Your First Therapy Appointment

Updated: Dec 22, 2018

Have you been thinking about making an appointment with a therapist?

Thought about it but haven’t been able to make the call? Are you nervous about what the therapist will think about you?

Here’s a tip: A therapist is most likely just as nervous the first time you get together. I know I still get butterflies every time I have a new client coming in. I still wonder, will I be able to help this person? Will they like me? I’ve been doing this for years now, but those thoughts and feelings still creep up every time.

If you’re nervous about seeing a therapist for the first time, here are some tips that can help you make the most of your session while making you as comfortable as possible:

Come prepared

It’s always helpful for the client and the therapist if there are certain agenda items that you want to focus on. For example, you can come in for your first session with your counselor and want to hone in on your panic attacks. With that in mind, the therapist can collaborate with you about what the best steps are for you to meet your goal. This is formerly known as the treatment plan. That way, you’ll know what you’re working toward, and have a time frame for when you can expect to achieve those goals.

Research your therapist

No, that doesn’t mean do a background check or try to find us on social media. But knowing the type of therapy your therapist provides can be very beneficial to your outcomes in therapy. I, for example, specialize in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which are especially helpful for individuals with panic attacks, chronic stress, and PTSD.

By knowing the type of therapy your therapist provides, you’ll be able to really understand why the therapist is saying or having you do certain things, such as homework assignments or meditations to practice.  This way you’ll be more invested in the process.

Stick to a Schedule

Therapy is hard work. So you really want to invest in the process by making it a priority in your schedule. Talk with your therapist during your first session about a mutually convenient time every week. Weekly is the most common andis best for consistency and better outcomes. By having a set time every week, you’re less likely to fall off track and will be less scattered with trying to fit it into your calendar every week.   You’ll just know, “Ok, Tuesdays at 11AM is my weekly appointment with Dana.” Think of the time investment as an investment in your future self.

Ask Questions

The more questions the better. It always best for the clients to know what to expect so there’s nothing about sessions that are unclear. Potential questions

to ask before your first session:

How long is each session?

Most individual sessions are 45-50 minutes, but it helps for you to know for sure so you know how much time to block off in your calendar.

Do you take insurance?

Ahhh the dreaded “I” word. Therapy is an investment in time and money.  Not all therapists take insurance, (me included) so you want to be sure what fees are expected up front so you don’t have any unexpected costs.

Want to see someone that’s not on your plan? Most individuals are not aware of their out of network benefits. This means that once your deductible is met, your insurance company will reimburse you for all or part of your session fee (somewhere between 50-80% usually). Always call your insurance carrier prior to your session to verify your benefits so there are no surprises!

Is there a cancellation policy?

Most therapists have a pretty solid 24-48 hour cancellation policy. That’s because the time is set-aside for you every week. Just as you make the commitment, so does your therapist, so you want to be clear about cancellation policies up front so you can plan accordingly.

What’s the deal with confidentiality?

A relationship with a therapist is sacred. Anything you say to a therapist MUST stay confined to the four walls of the office, unless you sign a release stating that it’s okay for a therapist to speak with someone about you. That being said, there are certain parameters in which a therapist is obligated to disclose information that you divulge. Be sure to review this with your therapist in the first session and let the therapist know if there’s anyone you want him/her to be able to speak about your sessions.

Evaluate the Fit

I’m a firm believer that the relationship one has with their therapist is the single most important factor for positive change to occur. Dan Siegel, one of my all time favorite neuroscientists and researchers on trauma, even states that insight is not the key for successful outcomes in therapy. The relationship with the therapist is what’s key. So you want to make sure that your therapist is someone you feel comfortable with. If your therapist reminds you of your ex-wife that you had a terrible divorce with, then she probably isn’t the best person for you to see since you’ll get triggered every time you see her! No offense to the therapist, she’s probably wonderful, but you have to do what is best for yourself, and any good therapist will support that decision – no hard feelings.

It’s always a little unnerving to make the first call. Then again, anything worth doing is always a little uncomfortable in the beginning. Only when we expose ourselves to what’s uncomfortable is when we can break free of what’s been holding us back.  Once you start going to sessions regularly, you’ll begin to see how therapy really is an amazing benefit to anyone that’s invested in the process.  There are so many things going on in the world today that you don’t have to go through it alone.  Make that first call today – in the end, you’ll be happy you did.

About The Author

Dana Carretta-Stein is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and founder of Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling, PLLC, in Scarsdale, NY.   She specializes in clinical psychotherapy to treat children, adolescents and adults with anxiety, behavior and trauma difficulties.


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