Things you need to know for your first therapy appointment

So you’ve made the choice to seek therapy. After doing your research, (you’ve heard about our directory right?), you’ve zeroed in on a therapist that seems like they might be a good fit for you. Now what? The pending New Year has us all ready to start anew. Maybe you’re seeking therapy as a way of getting your mind and spirit aligned for a new year filled with new obstacles and new life changes. Or, maybe you’re looking to leave some habits back in 2018 and you’re looking toward therapy to help you out with that. Whatever your reason, here are a few things you should know before you first therapy appointment.

  1. There will be lots of questions. You will probably do most of the talking during your first appointment and it may feel like more of an interview. Your first session is what we call an intake and it’s designed to get as much background information as possible to help us figure out what’s been going on with you and how we might be able to help.
  2. You might feel really nervous. It’s totally normal to be really nervous about your first session. It’s not everyday that we talk to a complete stranger about some pretty personal stuff in our lives. If you feel comfortable, share with your therapist what you’re nervous about. It could lead you to a great conversation and might provide some valuable information to your therapist about the kinds of things that might be helpful to you in the therapeutic process.
  3. You probably won’t leave with a diagnosis. Since we’re likely doing a bunch of fact-finding in the first session and there still may be some pieces of the puzzle that don’t quite fit, you probably won’t leave your first session with a diagnosis. We may have a good idea of what we think may be going on, but will likely want to see you a few more times and have you share more about your story to be able to make a diagnosis if there is one to be made. You don’t need a diagnosed mental health condition to see a therapist.
  4. You might be hesitant to come back for the next appointment. It may initially feel better to finally have a place to share what you’re struggling with but afterwards you may have what we call a ‘vulnerability hangover,’ where later that day or the next morning you think “what in the world did I just do?” it feels like you’ve just been naked in front of a lot of people. This is not uncommon and it may make you feel a little embarrassed about going back to the therapist. Try to fight through that feeling. See if you can and go back to the next session and share how difficult it felt to come back and the feelings you’ve been experiencing.
  5. You might not feel “better” right away.  Depending on what’s going on and how long you’ve been dealing with whatever brings you in, it may actually feel worse before it gets better. You know that one closet many of us have in our homes where we shove boxes, out of season clothes, wrapping paper, and various other odds and ends? What has to happen when you finally decide you want to clean that closet. You probably have to take everything out, decide if you’re going to keep it or not, and then make a plan before there’s any sense of organization right? That’s a lot like what it’s like to start therapy.

If you’ve already started therapy, what was your first appointment like? Is there anything else you think others should know about the first appointment? Share it with us in the comments. And if you haven’t already started therapy but think you will soon, grab our Guide to Getting Started With Therapy to help you out in the process.

On the Couch with Mary Jane Paul, Session 1

On the Couch with Mary Jane Paul (1)

One of the major reasons I started Therapy for Black Girls was to reduce the stigma associated with seeking therapy. It’s important to change the community narrative that therapy is only for “crazy” people. Therapy is not only helpful to relieve symptoms of mental illness. It’s also incredibly useful in increasing mental wellness. Sometimes these concepts seem a little abstract without concrete examples, so in an effort to bring these ideas to life I’m starting a new series on the blog called On the Couch. This series will focus on the work I might do with a fictional character if they were an actual client in my practice. Today, we have our first session with Mary Jane Paul from BET’s Being Mary Jane. The first session with any client is the intake session where I collect a lot of information from the client about the history of their concerns, their families,  and their reasons for seeking therapy. This will also serve as a nice recap if you haven’t been keeping up with the show 🙂 .


Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Therapist

Perhaps the hardest part about deciding to participate in therapy is choosing who would be a good fit as your therapist. After all, you will likely be sharing some of your most intimate thoughts and concerns with this person. You want to be sure that they are a good fit! But do you know what factors would contribute to this? Here are 5 questions you may want to consider as you search for this person: 

1. How important is it that your therapist match you in characteristics like race, ethnicity, gender presentation or sexual orientation? Research has been consistent in finding that the most important factor in whether or not therapy will be helpful  is the quality of the relationship between client and therapist. There is a need to feel “known” by your therapist that helps one to be more vulnerable in the space. If there are particular characteristics about a therapist that you believe will allow you to feel more comfortable and ready to work, then by all means search for that! However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you cannot have a quality therapeutic relationship with someone who doesn’t come in the package you thought you wanted. Many times you may be able to work through things with a therapist who is less like you in ways that you could not have imagined.

2. What type of personality works best with you? Are you someone who needs to be gently nudged into making a change or would you prefer a straight up, no chaser approach? Are you someone who needs lots of structure and activities to help you work through issues or do you prefer processing an issue from multiple perspectives until you land on something that fits. Each of these things will be important to consider as you decide whether a therapist will be a good fit for you. You may be able to get a sense of this from therapists’ websites but it will also be important to ask about these things either during a consultation or during your first appointment. (more…)