Even now, after a year and a half of consistent weekly or biweekly therapy appointments, I am rarely saved from the all-consuming dread that comes with the anticipation of a therapy appointment. And that’s coming from a regular.
When I started going to therapy, it was after about five years of thinking that it would be in my best interest to start talking to someone about my mental health. The thing that held me back that whole time was the fear of getting started—of the discomfort of doing something new, particularly something that required me to expose my innermost vulnerabilities for an hour straight.
So, I continued to push it off. My fear of what my first therapy appointment would be like overrode the discomfort of my mental health struggles. I wish it hadn’t.
While I can’t change my past regrets, I can do my best to spin those mistakes into something of value, so here we are. Here’s what you can expect on your first therapy appointment, so hopefully you’ll feel a little more comfortable taking the plunge. Trust me: if you can gather the courage to take that first leap, you’ll never regret it.
1. You may not have to dive into the deep stuff right away
Many of my preliminary therapy sessions have centred around simply the therapist and myself getting to know each other. Your therapist may give you a taste of the different approaches they use and may ask about any history you or your family have with mental illness. You don’t have to give any more or any less information than you’re comfortable giving.
2. You may receive a diagnosis
If you have a strong feeling that you’re experiencing a specific mental disorder, you may wish to bring that up either in your intake forms or at the top of the appointment. Though it’s not make-or-break, as you may not be comfortable sharing so much information in a first appointment, it may contribute to your mental health professional being able to formulate a treatment plan quicker, and get you feeling better sooner.
If you don’t believe yourself to be experiencing a specific disorder or illness, or if you’re not sure what’s behind your experiences, don’t worry—it’s your therapist’s job to meet you where you’re at and to be someone who works with you towards a healthier mind.
Therapists are like soul mates—one might not be right for you or you might not be right for them.
3. You might get homework
I hate to break it to ya, but the majority of your progress won’t be made in the hour you spend with your therapist each week. In reality, the most important part of your recovery is the independent work you put in in your day-to-day life. ‘Homework’ may be composed of actual written work or worksheets, mental exercises or mindfulness work.
Make sure you let your therapist know if there’s a certain style of work that you feel particularly responsive to, or one that seems to be more difficult than it is helpful. They’ll adjust their approach to suit your cognitive style.
4. You and your therapist might not click immediately
Don’t let this discourage you. How many people do you instantly get along with at first meet? Think of your first therapy appointment as a first date—it can be awkward and intimidating but, on the bright side, you have the benefit of being on a ‘date’ with someone who cannot and will not judge you.
Sometimes, after a few appointments, you might notice that you still have that ‘first date’ feeling before going to therapy, or you don’t feel like you’re making progress. That may be a sign that it’s time to explore other options, and that’s totally normal! Therapists are like soul mates—one might not be right for you or you might not be right for them. Don’t let that turn you off therapy completely—it’s simply a process of trial and error like anything else.
If you want to meet with a counsellor through Dal's Student Health & Wellness, you can book an appointment online here.