Starting therapy can be incredibly nerve-racking, whether you’ve been in therapy before or not. You are talking to someone who is, at first, a stranger about some of the most intimate details of your life; you’re allowed to be nervous, anxious, scared, and feel all and any feelings. But, the important part is to not let that stop you from beginning therapy and starting your sessions. Getting over that initial hurdle and fear can sometimes be one of the hardest parts, but once you do, it can be the first step in a typically positive journey for yourself.
The initial thing to do is to find a therapist and set an appointment date and time. Even just doing that is a huge accomplishment, and something that you should be proud of when beginning this process. You are already putting in some effort and time to make sure that you prioritize working on yourself and start to become the best version of who you want to be. Scheduling your first session at a convenient time for you, whether on your day off or at a time where you are least stressed or rushed, can be a great way to start therapy on the right foot and make sure you are solely focused on you during that time, and even a little before and after. You don’t know how you may be feeling after the initial session, so sometimes it can be helpful to have some wiggle room on time after it to de-escalate any high emotions.
When going into your first session, it’s important to have realistic goals and expectations in mind. It can be beneficial to utilize the first session for you and your therapist to talk through those goals and expectations and make sure they are ideal and that you are both on the same page. Another thing to remember when going into this is that this time is for YOU, these sessions are for you. It’s extremely important that you feel like you are able to make the most out of the sessions because you are the one that’s going to be benefiting from them. With that being said, be open to change and be honest with yourself and your therapist; that is going to make a world of difference. Going into it with the mindset that “my therapist is going to fix me,” is not necessarily going to help you get to where you want to be and an unrealistic expectation to have. Rather, it’s more important to have the understanding that you are going to have to put in some work and be prepared that you will most likely have to change some things in order to get there.
Some more tips that can help you prepare and be as least nervous as you can when starting therapy (but again, nerves are okay and completely normal, especially going into the first session):
Ask any questions you have and want to. Again, this time is for you and whatever you are comfortable with. If you want to only speak a little bit, that’s okay, but if you have questions, do not hesitate to ask them. Your therapist will provide answers or help guide you to them if able to.
Be as comfortable as you can by dressing in whatever is most comfortable for you. As we’ve established, starting therapy can bring on some nerves and anxiety, so dressing in a way that makes you feel the most relaxed can be an easy way to help lessen the anxiety even just a little bit.
Take time to reflect afterward. As mentioned above, you do not know how the first session will make you feel; it could make you feel refreshed, lightened, or it could bring up some uncomfortable feelings that you may need to take some time and process through a little bit afterward. Take some time and think about how the session went for you and how it truly felt.
Take time to identify if your therapist is a good fit for you. There is nothing wrong with having a session and not wanting to continue with that therapist due to feeling like they are not the right person or fit for you. Therapy can be an intimate and vulnerable time, so you want to make sure you trust the person you are talking to and are as comfortable with them as you can be.
Even with a little insight into therapy and some tips to prepare for your first session, it still can be a daunting experience. It’s okay if you don’t have any specific goals or don’t know exactly what you need or what you want to work on; your therapist is there to help you figure it out. Being anxious about starting therapy is a perfect thing to bring up to your therapist as well, if and whenever you feel comfortable enough to do that. Be aware that therapy can be a long-term process and, like with most things, it typically gets easier and more comfortable over time. Cut yourself some slack and reassure yourself that it is incredibly normal to feel anxious about starting therapy. You are taking a big step by doing that and know that in the long run and later on, you’ll be incredibly glad you took that step.
Emily Blair, ALMFT