If you have decided to start therapy, you likely have a lot of questions about what to expect. You’ve probably seen therapy depicted on television shows and in movies, but is it really like that? Sometimes not knowing what to expect prevents people from even trying therapy, though it may benefit them greatly. To take some of the mystery out of what happens when you start seeing a therapist, here’s a look at what you can expect.

Your First Therapy Appointment

Depending on where you go for therapy, your first appointment may be considered an “intake” appointment and it may be conducted by someone other than your therapist. It will likely be like that if you go to a mental or behavioral health clinic, where there are various therapists, you will be matched to one based on your circumstances.

Alternately, your first appointment may be done by the therapist that you will continue to see. Either way, the first appointment isn’t really therapy, per se. It’s an information gathering endeavor. You’ll be asked a lot of questions about you and your life. Your answers will help your therapist know which direction to take with your therapy.

Some of the questions you might be asked include:

• Why you are seeking therapy. There is likely a specific issue that led you to look for a therapist. It’s important that your therapist understands what the problems are on the surface before you delve into deeper issues.

• Your personal history and current circumstances. You’ll answer a series of questions about your history. Because family of origin plays a huge part in how we see the world, you will likely be asked about your childhood and going forward. You’ll also be asked about your current family situation.

• Symptoms you may be having. Besides hearing what your reason for seeking therapy is, your therapist will want to know if you are suffering from other symptoms from the problem. For example, you may be having difficulty concentrating at work or school and that may be resulting in negative consequences.

The information that your therapist gathers during this assessment will help him or her understand your issues and make an initial diagnosis. However, it’s possible that a firm diagnosis may not be made until further into your therapy.

Some things to keep in mind as you meet with your therapist for the first time are:

• Don’t be a bump on a log. Therapy takes participation, so don’t just sit there. You have to take an active part to get the most out of what therapy has to offer.

• Be honest and open. While therapists are trained to know what questions to ask, they can’t read your mind. Being as open and honest about you and your life will make therapy much more effective.

• Prepare ahead of time. Before your initial visit, think about how you can best describe what is going on in your life that is causing you problems. The more accurately that you can explain what’s wrong, the better your therapist will understand.

• Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The therapist isn’t the only one who gets to ask questions. Feel free to ask about the therapy process and anything that you don’t understand.

As you leave your first session, you should have an idea of your comfort level with the therapist and a tentative game plan for the coming weeks. Your subsequent sessions will be where the real work begins.

What to Expect from Your Ongoing Therapy

Depending on what your issues are, you will start one-on-one or family therapy. Your therapist will now work with you to problem solve, learn how to understand what is happening in your life, learn coping skills, and overall, help you become more self-aware. Therapists are there to guide you through the process and help you find the solutions that are going to work for you.

The most common type of talk therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT involves changing the patterns of thinking and behavior that are causing your difficulties. It’s a short-term and goal-driven psychotherapy that is used to treat a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse or addiction, and relationship issues. CBT works by changing your attitudes and behavior by concentrating on the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that you hold and how these processes relate to your behavior.

While you will likely undergo CBT, there are other types of therapy that are used to treat specific issues. For instance, if you are diagnosed with a condition like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you may benefit from a process called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. This type of therapy uses your eye movement to help your brain reprocess past traumas in a manner that makes the memories less intrusive and emotional.

Whatever your therapy entails, it’s important that you develop trust and confidence in your therapist, and that your sessions are not one-sided. In other words, your therapy sessions should be a back-and-forth dialog between you and your therapist, with your therapist guiding you based on evidence-based treatments. That said, if you don’t feel like you and your therapist are a good fit, then it’s very important that you say so. It may be that you just haven’t found the right therapist for you, or it may just mean that you need more time to develop the therapist-patient relationship. Discussing your feeling openly is key to making sure that you get the most out of your therapy.

Final Thoughts on Your Therapy Sessions

Hopefully, you are less anxious about the thought of beginning therapy and you have an idea of what to expect from your sessions. The particulars of your case are unique, as are you and your therapist, so this is meant as a general idea of what you can expect. Of course, the most important things are that you feel comfortable and safe with the therapist that you choose, and that you are open and honest in your sessions. Therapy can be an enormous help when you are going through challenges in your life. Don’t let fear keep you from seeking the help that you need.

If you are looking for a therapist in the Orange County area, Orange County Hope can help you find one that will work for you and your circumstances. We offer referral services for mental and behavioral health and our goal is to help you find the guidance and support that you need.

Kollin Lephart

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