Welcome back to my series “New to therapy”! You’ve made it through all the steps to get an appointment scheduled, and now you’re anxiously awaiting the first session with a new therapist. Maybe you’re even wondering what the heck you should be expecting. Today, we’re going to give you a glance into the mind of a therapist, and an idea of what to expect from your first session together.
A brief aside before we begin-I will discuss what I have experienced in the first session as the therapist, and while I will do my best to give an inclusive overview, I may miss something. This post will look mostly at the first session in an out-patient private practice setting, as that is what I know. Please be aware that other types of treatment (inpatient, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, etc.) might have a totally different first session than what will be described below. Now, we can get started.
As a therapist, I usually think of the first session as a “getting to know you” session. My main goal here is to make sure I know what you’re looking for in therapy and ensuring that I can provide it. The first session is also used to gather information and begin creating a collaborative plan forward. Prior to the initial session with a client, I have them complete paperwork, one part of which is an “intake questionnaire”. This helps me, as the clinician, get a very brief idea of what I’m working with and how to start. It also lets me know if there are any specific areas where I need to ask specific questions. The intake paperwork can help me answer the basic questions, such as: How well is the client functioning? What symptoms are bothering them specifically. How do they describe the issue that is bringing to them therapy? Does the client have a mental health diagnosis, and are they taking medications for this diagnosis? These questions help me tailor the focus of the first session and gives me some good insight into how to best help the client.
I will usually start my initial session with a client by discussing the paperwork with the client. I’ll ask if the client had any questions or concerns, discuss the key points (confidentiality, being a supervisee, etc.). From there, I may mention certain answers from the paperwork that I want to discuss. For example, I may ask a client who has previously been to therapy to discuss what they received treatment for, was it different than what they’re seeking treatment for now? Also checking in to see if there was anything a previous therapist did that the client really enjoyed (or really didn’t enjoy). I will also ask clarifying questions about symptom frequency or duration. This could look like- “When you say you have panic attacks ‘a lot’, what does that mean? How many do you have in a week? How long do they typically last?”. From there, we work to get to know each other. Clients may ask if I have a theoretical framework, or if I have experience in their specific area.
In the end, the first session is nothing to be afraid of. I know that anxiety is not so easily swayed but I hope the information I’ve provided has left you feeling confident you can handle whatever comes your way. If you have any specific questions or want more information, please feel free to email me and ask. As always, we wish you the best on your new journey to feeling better and are so happy to have you here!
Hello! Welcome back (or welcome!) to our blog series “New to Therapy”. This article assumes that you went through all the hard work of finding a counselor who feels like the perfect fit for you and still feel stuck. Now all you need to do is start a conversation with them, right? Or, perhaps you, like countless others before you, feel totally stumped looking at the blinking caret in an email draft.
How in the world do you start a conversation with a stranger telling them you want to share your whole life story with them? I totally get it, I struggled too. It’s like trying to send a message on a dating website for the first time: what do you do if they never respond? or if they think you’re totally messed up?
Despite how scary I know it can be, reaching out is a huge step forward and I am so happy you’ve come this far! All it takes is a little bit of planning and a whole lot of bravery. Here’s a template that will hopefully help ease some of that first-time anxiety, and a few tips to get you started!
If you prefer email:
Hello, name of professional.
I hope this email finds you well! I am reaching out because I think you would be a good fit as a therapist for me and I wanted to know your availability for new clients. I found your information on _______ (psychology today, social media, referral from friend, etc.)
Feel free to include anything specific you found online that influenced your decision to choose them. Was it their sense of humor, a specific post you saw, or the pictures of a dog on the website? It could be a good icebreaker for the first session or just a good way to start a comradeship (who doesn’t want to talk about their dog?)
Discuss the basics of what’s bringing you to therapy (work stress, relationship troubles, anxiety, etc.).
If you have any questions remaining after researching, feel free to ask them here. Do you need to check for weekend or evening availability? Do you need to check about superbills or sliding scale rates? Are you curious about anything specific that you saw while researching them?
Please let me know your earliest availability for a new client and how to go about scheduling a session together.
Thank you for your time,
Sapphire Coker (I would probably use your own name here, just a thought 😉.)
This template works even if you are emailing a scheduling assistant or a group establishment, just be sure to list which clinician you’re specifically interested in. (If you don’t have someone in mind, you can ask whoever is scheduling for recommendations. Ask about things like first availability for new clients, any specialties clinicians may have, certain time or day availability, or certain personality characteristics.)
If the person you are reaching out to someone who has a PhD or PsyD, the honorific Dr. in their title is optional, but could go a long way in making a good first impression.
If you prefer phone calls:
Hello! My name is _________ and I am calling to schedule an appointment with name of professional.
Include specific scheduling requests you have. “I was wondering what the first Tuesday availability looked like”. Or “What’s the next time they would have a 4pm appointment open?”
Cover the basics of what’s bringing you to therapy. “I’m experiencing a lot of anxiety in my life right now”.
Ask your questions. Same deal as with the email, this is still a good place to ask anything that’s still nagging in the back of your mind.
Tell me about the scheduling process and how I get started.
Have a great day!
Don’t be surprised if you get asked for things like an email, a callback number, or even credit card information. If you’re unsure why someone is asking the information on the first phone call, ask them why. Usually, it’s because the therapist has found that it’s the easiest way to schedule or stay in contact.
Always leave a voicemail (and give a good callback number)! Spam robots have gotten industrious, and sometimes even office phones get spam calls nowadays. If you leave a voicemail then the person who receives the call knows A) you’re a real human and B) how to best get in touch with you to avoid a game of phone tag.
In the end, these conversations can be as formal or as casual as you would like and contain whatever feels most important to you.
We wish you all the best as you continue this journey and again, we are so happy to have you here. Congratulations on taking this big step!
Often during my “New to therapy” series I have mentioned moments where you, the client, are encouraged to use your own voice. Having been in therapy myself in the past, I promise I understand what a daunting task I have placed in front of you by encouraging you to be your own expert and to use your autonomy, even in the therapy room. Despite the fear or anxiety this concept might cause, I do it for good reason. I encourage it because good therapy takes two people.
Looking through PsychologyToday for a therapist, you may have noticed a recurring theme. A therapist that promises to “tailor their technique to each client” — I even have it in my own profile, and it isn’t an empty promise. I believe that therapy does the best work when both parties (clinician and client) are working harmoniously. To tailor a technique to someone you need to understand them and know what works best for them. If I have clients who enjoy drawing or writing, you best believe that I incorporate those things in session. It keeps my clients engaged and it’s already a tried a true way that a client’s brain can process information.
Our brains are a lot like our fingerprints, they are totally and completely unique. Brains are covered in grooves and divots (both metaphorically and literally) which are formed by our experiences, perspectives, thoughts, and beliefs. All these things can affect the effectiveness of the tools and coping skills that therapists will teach you. Throughout the course of therapy, you will try many new things, and not all of them are going to work. That’s okay. For your therapist to know, you have to tell them. Tell them which homework assignments rang true, and if any parts didn’t work as well, let them know that too. If you didn’t understand a concept or technique, say so, have the clinician say it a different way or provide an example. A good therapist won’t have hurt feelings, because you made sure that your treatment was working for you.
While you are in the therapy room, let your clinician know if there is anything they are doing that takes away from the experience. Perhaps it’s a noise they make, a “mmhmm” or a throat clearing that distracts you from your train of thought. Maybe they frequently use a spiritual example for you to relate to, and it doesn’t land well because you practice a different religion, or no religion at all. Make your therapist aware of things they do that impact your treatment.
Using your voice in therapy doesn’t mean that you yell or hurt feelings, just that you are involving yourself in the journey. I’ve said it before, and I will never stop saying it: you are your own best expert. When you are in the therapy room you are going to be the first, and often only, person who knows what’s working and what isn’t. It is okay to say something to ensure that the treatment you are receiving is the exact right fit for you. As always, we wish you the best on your journey and we are happy to have you here with us! Good luck!
Whether you are brand new to the therapy game in 2022 (or whenever you see this), or if you have had experience with therapy before: Congratulations! We are so happy to have you with us. I know this process can be overwhelming, so I’m here to help you through as much of it as I can. It can feel like there are too many options to go through alone sometimes, so let’s start together. This is one part in my series “New to Therapy”, which I am creating to help you feel more confident and comfortable taking the first steps towards feeling better. Today, I want to focus on finding the right provider for you.
A good first step is finding a provider that you think is a good personality fit. After all, you’ll be vulnerable with this professional, so why not check that they’re someone you’ll be able to get along with? PsychologyToday is an amazing resource you can use to search for providers that fit any criteria using their handy filtering service. You can filter providers by age, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or language. Maybe you want to do therapy in your native language because it would be more comfortable for you. It’s possible you want a counselor that has shared racial experiences with you, so you know they’ll understand. Perhaps a young therapist who will understand your TikTok references is what you need, or, on the other hand, maybe an older professional that you know has heard it all. Look around and see who feels like the best fit for your personality or your specific needs.
Next, you can check if this provider is a good fit for your schedule and budget. The provider’s availability and affordability are going to be huge factors in making this therapy thing work. You can check price per session, whether the counselor takes insurance or not, and whether they are providing telehealth services or not. Most providers will include their prices and insurance information on Psychology Today, but if not, you can always check to see if they have a website that includes pricing information. If you will need weekend sessions, or perhaps sessions in the evening after you’ll be free from work, check if the therapist provides openings that match your needs. If they don’t take insurance, do they provide superbills so that you can ask your insurance company for reimbursement? If someone looks absolutely perfect for you but you’re concerned about costs of session, look to see if a sliding scale is available. A sliding scale is basically an income driven payment option that allows therapists to make services accessible to clients who wouldn’t be able to afford the standard rate.
After you’ve covered the basics by finding someone who looks cool enough for you and who has the availability you need, you may start to dig into the nitty-gritty details. If you’ve really done your research before starting this process you may be looking for specific treatment modalities like CBT or DBT.
And the final step, of course, is reaching out! I know this is easier said than done. That’s why I created a handy template that you can use for email or phone calls when reaching out with providers. You can find that handy tool in our blog session labeled “first call/email template”.
My parting advice: if you have found a provider (or few) that fit your needs, feel free to “try it on”. Attend a few sessions and gauge if this clinician feels like the best fit for your healing process. If it doesn’t feel like you’re going to get what you need out of the therapeutic relationship, you are allowed (encouraged, truthfully) to try again with another therapist. Therapists are humans too and sometimes personalities just don’t mesh, but that doesn’t mean that therapy isn’t a good fit for you. We wish you all the best as you begin this journey and again, we are so happy to have you here! Congratulations on taking the first step!
I remember talking with my Mom years ago and she said, “You have to love yourself before you can love someone else.” What a hard lesson that is to learn! People pleasers can so quickly give someone else the respect and love that all, including oneself, deserve. Frequently, however, oneself is very far down the priority list for self-care and self-love. Let us take a minute and look at ways to transition that love and respect to self.
What are some of the beliefs or sticking points you have in your head? Many times, individuals pick up patterns from the past and drop them right in the middle of their present situation. Finding the strength and skills to resist old patterns is difficult. The patterns are connected to feelings of numbness, regret, fear, guilt, or shame. Whatever the emotion is, it is powerful in the mind of someone that does not love themselves.
In order to break the patterns, we have to challenge the belief. How do you do that? Great question. Look at what is real / not real. What is fact vs. feeling?
Breaking the patterns for them.
In many relationships, we forget to fill our own cup first; that way we have something to pass on to the next person. Take time to develop an understanding of self and what you need in a relationship, such as, time with a partner or conversations that affirm there is still a connection. In dating, you should find yourself comfortable with being honest. Being honest does not mean telling every single thing about yourself in the first two minutes of meeting someone, but being honest in the moments you are in and not feeling the need to leave out information or ‘make it sound better’. Your story, your life is enough.
My hope for you is that you love yourself enough to fall in love and maintain a relationship if that is the goal, and at the end of each moment you continue to love yourself.