What to Expect in Your First Therapy Session

I’ve had a lot of prospective clients ask me for over the years, in one way or another, “What is therapy going to be like? What should I expect?”. For so many people, not knowing what to expect can be a big obstacle to following through and accessing much-needed or desired supports. In general, there are a few standard processes that you can expect in your first therapy session, such as informed consent (and paperwork), sharing and expanding upon your story, and clarifying your goals. In this post, I break down each of these elements so that you can attend your first therapy or counselling session with a little more ease. 

Initial Informed Consent and Paperwork 

Before diving into your story, your therapist will ensure that you have a clear understanding of the services you will receive. Informed consent is the process of providing you with all the necessary information about therapy, including the benefits, potential risks, and confidentiality (and its limits). It is vital ingredient to establishing trust and transparency between you and your therapist from the very beginning.

During your first session, your therapist will likely provide you with a consent form that outlines the therapeutic process, confidentiality, and any potential limitations to privacy. It is crucial to read this document thoroughly and ask any questions you may have. Remember, informed consent is a mutual agreement between you and your therapist, ensuring that you are an active participant in your therapy. 

Sharing Your Story 

Once the paperwork is completed, your therapist will encourage you to share more about what has led you to seek therapy or counselling at this time. You may choose to provide context and insight into what factors, events, or experiences have contributed to the current issues, challenges, or concerns you face. Alternatively, you may choose to focus on your day-to-day experiences and how you are impacted. You might discuss various aspects of your life, such as relationships, work, family dynamics, and personal challenges. In other words, sharing your story is an opportunity for you and your therapist to explore the scope and impact of the concerns you face. Sharing this information can be an emotional experience, but it is an essential step in the therapeutic process because it allows your therapist to develop a thorough understanding of you and tailor therapy to your specific needs. 

It's your therapist's role to create a safe and non-judgmental space for you to express your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. They will actively listen, ask clarifying questions, and provide empathy and support. It is important to remember that therapy is a collaborative process, and your therapist is there to guide and assist you in expressing yourself. 

Clarifying Your Goals for Therapy

After exploring the scope of your concerns, your therapist will work with you to clarify your goals for therapy. This step is crucial as it sets the foundation for the work you and your therapist will do together. Your goals will guide the focus of your therapy and help you both monitor and measure your progress along the way.

Some people begin therapy unsure as to what their goals are or what their priority should be – this is both common and normal! Your therapist will help you clarify your goals by inviting you to reflect on what you hope to achieve or the ways in which you want your life, relationships, and experiences to be different. Your therapist may ask probing questions to help you explore your desires and aspirations. They may also provide insights and suggestions based on their professional expertise. Additionally, it is important to discuss your expectations for therapy. This includes the frequency and duration of sessions, the therapeutic approach your therapist will use to address your concerns, and any preferences you may have. 

A final point...

Embarking on your first therapy session can be an anxiety-provoking experience. Knowing what to expect can help ease some of the anxiety and give you the space to devote your care and attention to the process. Remember, therapy is a collaborative effort between you and your therapist. Your therapist will offer guidance, support, and a reassuring space to explore the changes you want to see in your life. Embrace this opportunity to grow, change, discover, and prioritize yourself.

On the hunt for a therapist? Check out my post, Finding a therapist in Calgary (and beyond!)