So, you have taken the plunge. You have selected a therapist that you feel you could work with and you have your first session booked in. I imagine you will be feeling a range of emotions. Part of you will be relieved that you are getting some help. But I imagine that there will be part of you that is nervous because you don't know what to expect. Hopefully this week's blog will give you some idea which may help with the nerves!
Going to your first session almost feels like a blind date, doesn't it! You will be having a connection with someone you have never met before and you will be sharing your innermost secrets and your vulnerability with them. Of course you will be nervous and initially it will feel a little weird. But therapists will expect that you will have some nerves and will do all they can to ease those nerves.
So what to expect, what will your therapist be like? Every counsellor is different and tends to work to the clients they will be seeing. So if you work for a corporate company and you are accessing therapy through work, your therapist is more likely to be dressed smartly. That is equally so if you are accessing a therapist that is based in a city centre. If you are accessing therapy through a charity such as Mind or Cruse (a bereavement charity) your therapist will more than likely be dressed in a casual way. However, if you have selected a therapist yourself, what they will be wearing will pretty much depend on the type of therapist you have selected. Personally, I tend to dress casually. I try and create a relaxed atmosphere for my clients and don't want what I wear to be a barrier.
So you have some idea as to what your therapist will look like, what can you expect from your first session? Well therapists tend to work in their own unique way so there is never a definitive first session - sorry, you probably wanted absolutes didn't you! You wont get absolutes in therapy - every therapist works differently but more importantly every client has differing needs and ways of working. This is where the skill of a therapist comes in - a good therapist will recognise what works best for you. Anyway, I digress..
What I can do is tell you how I work and give you the reasons behind the way I work to give you some understanding. For me, the first session is about me getting to know you. We are strangers but we need to find a level where we can connect. So I need to learn more about you. However, the very first thing we do is go through the contract. A contract is not you signing your life away but it demonstrates how we can work together. So more of an agreement really (maybe I should refer to it as an agreement in future!). So you will get a copy of my contract which we will discuss together. I did start writing about all the aspects of the contract but I deleted this bit and started again as it could be a whole new blog, and actually, it is more important that you go through the contract with your therapist.
So once we have gone through the contract, we start on me getting to know you. This may feel a little frustrating. You may be coming for therapy for a particular reason and you may have psyched yourself up to talk about this. Therefore, when you arrive for your first session you are finally ready to offload and your therapist starts asking you all kinds of random questions that don't seem to relate to why you are seeking therapy. You have finally taken the plunge and now you are being stopped from talking about it. I get it! I really do! But actually for me to truly understand things from your perspective, I need to learn a little bit more about you. Have you had therapy before? Well this is important. If you haven't then I will need to give you more explanations as to how therapy works and give you the opportunity for you to ask me questions. If you have had therapy before, what worked and what didn't? Me learning what didn't work is important too because I want therapy to be right for you.
I will ask you questions about previous mental health issues - I promise you, this isn't to make assumptions, judge you or make up my mind about you. It gives me an idea of the differing experiences you have had and how they have impacted on you. Again it is about learning what works best for you.
I will ask you questions about your current situation - what job you do, who you live with and what your relationships are like. I will ask you about your childhood - what does this have to do with how you currently feel you ask? Well it can have actually have an impact on how you feel now. I think it was in my first blog, I said that we all recognise that our experiences shape us. That is all this is. So although I am asking you all these questions that don't seem relevant, it is all part of me getting to know you. Actually sometimes these questions can be really helpful for you to get to know what the issues might be. If you are feeling stuck in a rut, have low mood but don't know why, this can actually help you to pinpoint what is going on.
Please know that you will be the focus of the sessions. If something comes up in that first session that you don't want to focus on moving forward, that is absolutely fine. Therapy has to be about you, not about what I want you to talk about.
So I hope you can see that while your first session may be frustrating, it really is because I am trying to get to know you. As your therapist, I care about you and only you in our sessions. I want to connect with you, and to provide a space where you really do feel heard, validated and understood. I am asking you these questions not because I am nosey, but because I want to create that connection where you can really process what is going on for you with someone who gets it.
So to summarise (because I know I waffle on), your first session will really be about getting to know each other. These sessions can go so quickly because of the amount of info covered and sometimes you can leave feeling a little raw. If you are feeling a little raw after your first session, try and take things easy. Give yourself a little self care (I choose Dominos pizza and chocolate!), try not to be too hard on yourself but also raise this with your therapist at your next session. Good luck!