Therapy FAQ

What to Expect During Your First Therapy Session

Your first appointment with a counselor is special — it’s the hallmark of your bravery to improve your mental health. As with most major life decisions, you may feel scared and overwhelmed. You may be plagued with doubt and uncertainty since you don’t know what to expect. Therapists anticipate this struggle and have measures to […]

Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC By Greg Lozano, LPC
Therapist listens to client.

Updated on May 20, 2024

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Your first appointment with a counselor is special — it’s the hallmark of your bravery to improve your mental health. As with most major life decisions, you may feel scared and overwhelmed. You may be plagued with doubt and uncertainty since you don’t know what to expect.

Therapists anticipate this struggle and have measures to ensure you’re comfortable during your first visit. Typically, the initial therapy session, also known as the discovery session, is an icebreaker. It enables therapists and their prospective clients to become acquainted and determine whether they fit well.

This article will explore what you can expect during your initial therapy session and how you may use it to ensure the therapist is a good fit for a great therapy experience.

Preparations

“The first session will unusually be unique to the therapeutic relationship. The first session is where your therapist is assessing you to understand your problem and how best to help you,” say Grow Therapy provider Chance Reynolds, LCSW. “Expect lots of questions to help them understand and to go through the legal paperwork.”

Once you’ve identified a therapist who meets your needs, it’s time to schedule an appointment. The preparation process depends on the therapy delivery you choose: in-person or online.

In-person therapy is ideal if the therapist is near your location or if you prefer face-to-face interaction. Online treatment is perfect if you live in an underserved area or appreciate the convenience.

The first session will unusually be unique to the therapeutic relationship. The first session is where your therapist is assessing you to understand your problem and how best to help you.

- Chance Reynolds, LCSW

Getting There

For in-person therapy, you’ll need to get the office directions, plan your commute, and account for traffic and potential hold-ups. Online therapy is more convenient since you only need a strong internet connection that supports video calling.

Paperwork

It’s procedural to fill out some paperwork when getting into therapy, including:

Some therapists send the paperwork before the initial session to speed things along and focus more on getting acquainted. You may ask your provider to help with troublesome questions during the session.

The Initial Session

The initial session differs from the rest — it centers on getting acquainted with your therapist and the therapy process, allowing both parties to understand if they’re a good fit. Think of it as a form of courtship before getting into a mutually beneficial relationship. The therapist seeks to know your expectations, and you want to understand if you’re comfortable with the therapist’s style, therapy approach, and recommendations.

Introduction

While the therapist may have your details, they don’t know you yet. So, you’ll need to talk a little bit about yourself. You can talk as much or as little as you wish; the conversation doesn’t need to center on therapy — though you can trust that your therapist will guide the conversation.

Establishing Your Needs

Your therapist will use the initial session to learn more about you, your goals, and your expectations. Typically, they wish to understand why you’re seeking therapy, where you’re coming from, what you’re looking for, and your end goal. Naturally, they’ll ask questions, but the session shouldn’t feel like an interrogation.

Ideally, you should have clear goals when going for therapy. That allows you to define your needs and expectations of the therapy process. However, you don’t need an overly specific goal; a rough idea of what you wish to work on is excellent. Your therapist can help you refine your goals later on.

Questions a Therapist May Ask You

A therapist may choose between a formal, structured interview and a free-flowing conversation during the session. Part of the intake process entails asking lots of questions, including:

  1. What brings you to therapy at this particular time in your life?
  2. Have you been to therapy before? If so, what was the experience like for you?
  3. Do you wish to address specific challenges or symptoms?
  4. Can you share an overview of your personal history?
  5. How would you describe your current state and overall well-being?
  6. How do you typically cope with stress or difficult emotions?

While some questions may feel personal, or the answer may be embarrassing, you must be honest. Your therapist won’t lecture or pass judgment. Instead, they’ll help and support you to overcome any issue you’re dealing with.

Questions to Ask the Therapist

You may feel out of depth when going into therapy for the first time — but remember, therapy provides a safe and non-judgmental space. Use the discovery session to address any fears, misconceptions, or concerns about treatment. Here are some questions to consider asking your therapist to help you ease in:

  1. How does the therapeutic process work?
  2. How many sessions will I require?
  3. What can I expect from our sessions?
  4. How often will we meet, and for how long?
  5. What are your areas of expertise or specialization?
  6. What techniques do you commonly use in therapy?
  7. How will I know if the treatment is working?

These questions help you feel comfortable and confident in the therapeutic relationship with your therapist.

Setting the Ground Rules and Expectations

Each party must understand expectations to facilitate a beneficial therapeutic relationship. Therefore, it’s necessary to establish the ground rules right off the bat.

A therapist may set expectations to ensure a smooth process and may expect you to:

Since therapy is a two-sided affair, you may also set your expectations from your therapists, including:

Establishing the ground rules helps avoid problematic issues down the line and ensures a seamless process that may accelerate your progress.

Coming up with a Treatment Plan

Upon reviewing your goals and expectations, a therapist works with you to develop a treatment plan. A treatment plan is typically time-based and aligned with your therapy goals and expectations. Treatment plans are collaborative to give you a say in the treatment options and comprise different therapy modalities:

A therapist may combine various modalities to help you get the best results and accelerate your progress.

Ending Your Initial Therapy Session

At the end of the discovery session, your therapist may offer treatment recommendations, including duration and frequency. Work with them to come up with a schedule that works for you. Don’t be too hard on yourself or try to cram everything into the initial session. Consider it an icebreaker that gives you a taste of what to expect during therapy and working with the therapist.

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Getting the Most of Your First Therapy Session

The primary purpose of the discovery session is to get the ball rolling. Therefore, you want to ensure you address every aspect of attending therapy; everything from your goals to the therapist’s style and logistics, such as cost and session lengths.

You must be candid about your goals and therapy expectations as they will help the therapist decide the treatment direction. Therapists often have multiple tools and use your feedback to decide on the best approach.

Therefore, you should answer every question truthfully and honestly to ensure your therapist-client relationship is off to a great start. The success of therapy lies in all parties trusting each other and the therapy process. If a therapist decides they can’t trust you, they may not take you on as a client since you’re unlikely to benefit from their services.

Likewise, you must decide if you wish to work with the therapist or not. Consider if you like them at a personal and professional level. Do you picture yourself interacting with them for the next so many weeks and telling them your most intimate thoughts, emotions, and secrets? Use the initial session to ensure you get your money’s worth and the best mental health help.

What Makes a Great First Session?

The main goal of psychotherapy is to provide a safe and non-judgmental space where you can explore your most intimate thoughts and feelings. Take some time to assess how you felt during the session. Did the therapist make you feel safe and comfortable? Most importantly, did they seem like a great fit? The answer to these questions may offer insight into the kind of therapy experience you’ll likely have when working with the therapist.

“You should watch out for two things: First, you come away from the first session feeling understood, like the person you are working with really understands your problem and how it affects you. Second, you feel a good therapeutic relationship building between yourself and your clinician,” Reynolds says.

Although challenging, therapy shouldn’t feel like a chore. Establishing a great rapport with your therapist is crucial for a rewarding therapy experience. You may continue with the therapist if you feel comfortable but don’t hesitate to drop a therapist if you’re not satisfied with their style of therapy.

You should watch out for two things: First, you come away from the first session feeling understood, like the person you are working with really understands your problem and how it affects you. Second, you feel a good therapeutic relationship building between yourself and your clinician.

- Chance Reynolds, LCSW

Is a Therapist the Right Fit?

Ideally, the initial session should help determine if you’ve found the right therapist. Some indicators of success include:

Look out for red flags that may indicate the therapist isn’t right for you, including:

Pay attention to your gut feeling, as it’s important that you like your therapist. You can only establish a strong connection if you find a therapist likable.

Find a Therapist Who Understands You

The initial therapy session is a test run — an audition to help you establish whether the therapist fits your needs. A successful therapy experience depends on developing a personal connection with your therapist. A discovery session allows you to test that and assess the therapist’s style and approach. The ideal therapist is likable, accommodating, experienced, and willing to personalize your therapeutic journey to suit your needs.

Finding a therapist who ‘gets’ you can be a trying experience. Grow Therapy simplifies the process by connecting you with a network of thousands of therapists in 46 states. Use our search function to narrow down your results based on insurance, location, and therapist specialties to find the right one for you, then book a session directly through our website.

FAQs

  • The first therapy session can be overwhelming. You'll need to discuss yourself and your concerns so the therapist can get a read on your needs. Remember to be open, honest, and willing to commit to the process.

  • The primary goal of the first session is to set the stage for your upcoming therapy sessions. The therapist uses these sessions to establish your needs and work with you to create a personalized treatment plan.

  • You should communicate openly and honestly about your needs, reasons for seeking therapy, goals, expectations, and preferences. You should also ask them questions about their experience and approach to treatment.

About the author
Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC Greg Lozano, LPC

Greg Lozano is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in working with individuals with severe mental illnesses such as depressive, bipolar, schizophrenia, and substance abuse conditions.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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