Blog: Articles on Psychological Wellbeing, Relationships, Brain Health, Counselling and Neurofeedback
Welcome to the blog of Sojourn Counselling and Neurofeedback. Articles posted here are written by our clinical staff and relate to services we offer or conditions we address. We hope they will be helpful to you in some way, whether you're considering counselling for yourself or someone else, gathering information on a mental health related issue, or just want to find out more about who we are and what we do.
Five Ways to Prepare for your First Counselling Session
How to Prepare for your First Counselling Session
If you’ve never been to therapy before, you might feel nervous or anxious before your first session. This is a very common experience for first-time clients. Taking steps to prepare for your first therapy session beforehand can help you manage those feelings and make the most out of therapy.
Clarify Your Goals for Therapy
Therapy is only productive and effective when you take charge and understand your part in the healing journey. Setting goals for therapy is accepting responsibility for your life and taking action to make a change.
One of the common questions that mental health professionals ask when they meet a new client is what brings them to therapy and what they hope to achieve from counselling. Some examples of the most common counselling goals are changing behaviors, establishing, maintaining and improving relationships, enhancing ability to cope, facilitating decision-making, and personal development. Taking some time to reflect on your goals will help you feel prepared for the first session. It is important to remember that everyone’s reasons for coming to counselling are different and there are no right or wrong reasons for seeking therapy.
If you notice that your goals are not very clear to you and you are not sure why you opted for therapy, it is okay. As much as it is useful to have some idea for what you what to work on in therapy, it is completely normal and common for people to feel unsure about this or need some help sorting it out. This can also be something that you can work with your therapist on during the the first few sessions. This may be a question you want to revisit with your therapist to ensure your previous goals are still relevant.
Manage Your Expectations
Having realistic expectations are viewed as central to the success of psychotherapy. Our expectations can have a significant impact on the decision to enter and remain in therapy. We tend to enter counselling with expectations regarding the nature of therapy and the responsibility we will have in this process.
Although therapy is great and can be highly beneficial, it is not a magic cure-all. Most of the time, unrealistic expectations are the main reason for dropping out of psychotherapy. For example, if you expect your therapist to have all answers to your questions or fix your problems in a few sessions; you will be setting yourself up for disappointment. You need to know that therapy is a two-way street which requires both clients and therapists to commit to work as a team to reach the goals. Depending on your goals, this process might take a few weeks or even a few years and the first therapist you meet with might not be the last one with whom you finish the journey.
Here are a few examples of realistic expectations for therapy which can allow you to track your progress over time and help you to stay committed and accountable when things get challenging.
Remember that your therapist is not there to fix your problems or to save you from pain, but rather to support and guide you through life challenges and suffering. Expect your therapist to create a safe, nurturing, non-judgmental and unbiased space for you to explore thoughts, feelings, and expectations.
Be aware that healing is not linear. Sometimes therapy can feel very difficult and can leave you feeling worse before helping you feel better. Expecting highs and lows, ups and downs, peaks and valleys in your healing journey will help you to not feel discouraged along the way.
Stay open, curious, and flexible during this journey. It is impossible to predict what might come up in a therapy session. You may find yourself going down paths you never even knew existed or finding yourself experiencing different emotions while sharing your life stories in the counselling room. Knowing that this is just a very normal part of the journey might help you to go with the flow and trust the process.
Assess the Quality of Connection with Your Therapist
Research shows that the chance of experiencing success in treatment depends on many factors including the severity of the problems being treated, the client’s belief about counselling, and the skills of the therapist. However, over the past fifty years research has shown that the quality of the relationship between the therapist and the client is the strongest predictor of whether therapy is successful.
When it comes to finding a therapist that is right for you; the connection you feel with your therapist is a key factor. This is even more important than other things such as the approaches they use, their specialization, the academic background, their culture, etc.
Sometimes the relationship with your therapist takes time to develop. For example, you might find yourself disliking your therapist not because of who they are but because of how they challenged assumptions or how they voiced ideas that you did not like to hear. It is advisable to have a few sessions with a therapist before deciding if you’re going to continue seeing them.
These are some questions to ask yourself when deciding if you have a good connection with your therapist:
Do you feel heard, validated and understood by your therapist?
Do you feel your therapist accepts you as you are?
How honest and open can you be with your counsellor?
Do you feel you can grow to trust your therapist over time?
Do you feel your therapist cares about you and your issues?
Does your therapist make you feel judged or criticized?
Consider the Timing of Your First Appointment
Scheduling your first session for when you have some extra time before and after the session is a great idea especially if you are nervous about your appointment. Often anticipating a session with a new therapist can be stressful, and feeling rushed before a session can leave you feeling frazzled. Give yourself enough time to find your therapist’s office, so you don’t feel even more stressed about running late. Arriving early and practicing slow, deep breathing helps regulate your body’s stress response and helps you to stay more present and relaxed during the initial session.
To be safe, it is better to schedule your first appointment on a day that you don’t have to worry about other commitments. Try to avoid making definite plans after the session just in case you find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Creating some space after therapy can give you an opportunity to reflect on how you felt during and after the session. You may feel refreshed, energized and very motivated, or you could find yourself deep in your own thoughts and find it difficult to socialize or focus. It is important to consider each of these scenarios when you consider the timing of your first counselling session.
Ask Questions of Your Therapist
Many therapists will use the first appointment to go through cancelations policy, legal and ethical obligations, emergency contact policy, their credentials and approach to therapy during the first session. If you did not receive such information, feel free to ask.
These are some questions that you may want to ask to have a clearer idea on what to expect:
What is their therapeutic approach?
Do they have experience working with similar goals or issues in the past?
What are their expectations of you during the treatment process?
What is the cancelation policy and best ways to contact your therapist between session?.
What is a rough estimate of the number of sessions that might be required to reach your goals and the ideal gap between each session?
If your cultural background is different than that of your therapist, it would be also good to explore their ways of working with clients from different cultural backgrounds.
Scheduling a first session with a therapist can be exciting and nerve-wracking. Taking some time to prepare for your first session may help focus the excitement and quell the stress. Considering your goals for therapy, your expectations, the connection you’d like to have with your counsellor, the timing of your first appointment, and questions you may have for your therapist can help you feel ready when entering the therapy office for the first time.
If you’re ready to make your first appointment, see our therapists’ bios and schedules here.
~ Shahrzad Jamali is a Registered Clinical Counsellor at Sojourn Counselling and Neurofeedback