Meeting with a new therapist for the first time is a lot like what I imagine a blind date to be: you’re nervous about meeting someone new, have no idea what to expect, and hope that by the end of it, you’ve made some kind of connection and want to see each other again.
I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to therapists. My first one was when I was sixteen and I just started seeing my current one in December. In between, there were about ten others, if I’m recalling correctly. I thought I’d share some of the therapy-related wisdom that I’ve gained over the last seventeen years.
7 Tips For Meeting with a New Therapist
1. If you can, find out about their background and specialties. Is this person a social worker, a psychologist, or a counselor? Where did they go to school? What specific issues are they experienced with? It’s a good idea to meet with someone who specializes in what you’re dealing with, whether it’s alcoholism, social anxiety, marital problems, or something else. You can ask these questions either on the phone prior to your first appointment, or when you meet your new therapist.
2. Review your own history because the first appointment is going to be a long Q&A session, and you’re the star. This is part of what makes meeting with someone new so unpleasant: I hate going over my mental health history, what medications I’ve been on, and what depression ‘feels like’ for me. But it’s important for mental health professionals to get a full picture with all the details in order for them to treat you properly. Try to come to your appointment with a list of previous medications (as well as dosages of any current prescriptions), your family history, and anything else you think might be relevant.
Here is a list of some unpleasant things I have to bring up, because they are a part of my history:
- I went through a cutting phase when I was a teenager.
- One of the symptoms of my depression as a teenager was suicidal ideation.
- I once swallowed seven of my antidepressants at a time, just ‘to see what it would feel like’.
- I had panic attacks throughout my twenties, including one that sent me to the emergency room.
- When I was 20, I was in a psychiatric outpatient program for five weeks, where they labeled me with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, but no psychiatrist since has agreed with those diagnoses.
3. Know what you’re looking to get out of therapy. Invariably, one of the first questions a therapist will ask you is What brings you here? What are you struggling with? You want to get the most out of therapy and each 45-50 minute appointment, so try to have a focus. If you don’t, you might end up rambling about your dog the whole time, only to realize Oh! I really should have brought up my fear of letting people down as you’re walking out the door.
4. Try not to compare. It’s so easy for me to compare all the therapists I’ve had. One was big on positive reinforcement, one shared more personal stories, one talked more about energetic healing than focusing on concrete strategies, one even nodded off in the middle of a session! Try to stay in the moment and get a sense of who this person is, rather than dwelling on comparisons.
5. Know that it takes time to build up a trusting relationship. It’s extremely rare to feel at ease with a therapist right away. It’s always your prerogative to decide when something isn’t working out, but try to at least meet with someone two or three times before looking elsewhere. Be patient, realize it’s okay to feel guarded, and hopefully those walls will slowly crumble.
6. It’s okay to speak up if something is making you uncomfortable. In fact, I hope you do speak up! Your therapist might broach a topic that you’re not ready to talk about yet; you need to let them know that. Something as simple as “I don’t think I can talk about that yet” is perfectly fine.
7. Remember that you are doing this to take care of yourself. Therapy is for your benefit. You only get out of it what you are willing to give, so if you’re not doing much talking, you’re probably going to walk away feeling pretty unsatisfied. Don’t blame that on the therapist. Your path to recovery is work. Showing up to your therapy appointment is great! But it’s only a start. You have to keep going, and you have to be an active participant in order to notice a change.
Do you have any tips that I left out? Which one do you think is the most important?
Great insight and tips my friend!
Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine recently posted…Grain-Free Butternut Squash Bread
Great tips for sure. I think when go and have not much to share…it’s ok. Don’t feel compelled to have to talk. Sometimes…it’s your turn to listen…that’s what I’ve learned the few times I went. I always wanted to go back …maybe this will inspire me! Thank you!
Carolann recently posted…Gadgets and Tech Toys Wishlist Part 8
Sometimes I do feel that pressure to talk, or to come up with answers. But so many things are meant to be explored slowly, over time.
Very good tips! I know I need to seek out the help of a professional to deal with this anxiety, but I’m scared to make that first step. I’m stuck in a never-ending cycle. My social anxiety makes it hard to seek help from a therapist, but the only way to get help is to seek help from a therapist!
Kristen @ 31 Million Seconds recently posted…5 Things No One Tells You About Living in Florida
I completely understand, Kristen. But think how relieved you’ll feel after you’ve made that initial phone call! I’m cheering you on from afar!
I think that speaking up when you’re uncomfortable or knowing when a therapist isn’t a great fit is incredibly important. If something in your gut tells you this person is not suitable to be your therapist, walk out. I was once diagnosed bipolar as well but that diagnosis wasn’t appropriate and no other psychiatrist agreed with it either. I don’t see anyone at this time since I’m managing myself oK and the stability I have now has cleared up a lot of my antics. So far, so good. 🙂 Have a great one Christy! Take Care -Iva
Thanks for saying this, Iva. I love opening up these dialogues and again experiencing that ‘Me too, what a relief’ feeling. Hope you’re doing well and have a good weekend!
Life is so fulfilling when we are able to live in the world and simultaneously make a positive difference in the lives of those we meet. Music is an intimate exchange that is beneficial for both the performer and the listener. Music has been highly valued as one of the most preferred natural methods of stress relief and for promoting all-round well-being. Specially formulated sound therapy can also guide one to deeper levels of relaxation. Through the power of sound the body can be guided to a state of self-healing to help cope with regular daily challenges.
I like your tip about speaking up. I usually have trouble speaking my mind. Hopefully, by letting the therapist know my needs, it will be a mutually beneficial meeting.
It really is so important to go over your medical and mental history with a new therapist. A therapist can’t truly help you in the way you need help if they don’t know you. Sharing your history, while cumbersome, helps them to see what has brought you to where you are.
These are some really great tips for anyone seeing a new therapist, or seeing one for the first time! I never thought of going over your own history, but that is really smart. I always expect the first meeting to be all about my past and what led me there, but I never thought to “study” before. I’ll definitely have to keep that in mind next time I move to a new therapist. Thanks so much for writing!
I agree, I really don’t like having to go through my whole history and feelings about that history with each new therapist. I know it’s necessary for the success of the counseling, but it can be frustrating and emotional. I like the idea of having a list of the things to go over to keep it brief but informational.