What to Do Before Scheduling Your First Therapy Session

man-on-cellChoosing to see a therapist is a huge decision. It’s that moment when you decide:

  • You need or want help (did you actually just admit that to yourself?).
  • You can no longer manage this situation as effectively as you’d like to.
  • You’ve been stuck for a while and want to move forward.

As a therapist, I can often perceive a shift in the person I’m speaking to on the other end of the line once that first appointment has been set. I can sense that person breathing just a little bit easier, and there’s often a subtle acknowledgment of hope and even accomplishment, as in, “I’ve just taken the first important step toward my future well-being.”

What leads up to that first step? How can you take that first step with more confidence so that you don’t feel like you’re grasping at straws? So that you feel empowered in the process?

I recommend doing five things before finding a therapist.

1. Think About What You Want to Gain from the Counseling Process

It’s helpful to have a goal or two in mind as you begin. For example, are you focused on processing a particular incident in your past? Are you interested in developing better communication skills? Are you eager to challenge the way you customarily think about yourself or the world around you (your inner dialogue)? Do you want to create a toolbox for coping with anxiety? Are you looking for a “safe” place to express your feelings regarding a loss?

It can be helpful to have a place to begin and to be able to express that to the person you choose to work with. Of course, you can alter your goals or add to them once you begin counseling. Sometimes a deeper objective comes to the surface later on, once a therapeutic foundation and a sense of trust has been established.

Find out which therapists in your area are accustomed to helping people with the kinds of things you hope to explore. Most therapists have online profiles that outline the type of work they typically engage in.

2. Do a Little Research

Find out which therapists in your area are accustomed to helping people with the kinds of things you hope to explore. Most therapists have online profiles that outline the type of work they typically engage in.

If you’re comfortable asking, find out if people you trust have any recommendations. You will need to be sure that if you choose to work with someone who also counsels someone you know, you will not find yourself censoring what you have to say. (You can expect anything you say to remain confidential.) Otherwise, it’s probably best to find someone on your own.

Stack the odds for a successful and pleasant experience in your favor. This might mean finding someone you don’t need to travel too far to see, finding a therapist who has an ample parking lot (so that you don’t get stressed trying to find parking each time you go), making sure the office is handicap accessible, or ensuring the office has hours that will accommodate your schedule. You want to remove as many potential barriers as possible to getting there and obtaining the help you desire. You certainly don’t want therapy to add an additional layer of stress.

This leads us to the third thing to do before therapy.

3. Explore Your Behavioral Health Benefits

Be familiar with the insurance coverage you have, if any, and what it will cover in terms of behavioral health, both in-network and out-of-network. Find out if you have a deductible and how much you have satisfied so far, what the therapist’s fees are, what your copayment is, whether you need a referral or authorization, and whether you are allotted a limited number of sessions. Having this information will enable you to be an informed consumer.

It’s best to know what therapy will cost per session before you begin so there are no surprises once you start. Again, you want it to be as comfortable and smooth a process as possible.

4. Have Questions Ready When You Schedule Your First Appointment

Write down the name, number, and location of the therapist you are calling, as well as the questions you want to ask. This way, you can keep track of responses if you reached out to more than one counselor. Don’t be afraid to get the answers you need. You may want to ask the therapist directly about how he or she works, how long the sessions are, and how often you will typically meet. Feel free to ask about office procedures such as last-minute cancellations, what happens when there’s bad weather, etc.

This conversation gives you the opportunity to get a “vibe” or sense of whether you will be comfortable working with a particular therapist.

Finally …

5. Prepare to Do Some Work

You will get out of counseling what you are willing to put into it. It’s not always easy. It requires thought, introspection, reflection, and effort, a willingness to “try on” different perceptions or experiment with alternative behavioral approaches.

Know that there will be days you will feel resistant and won’t want to attend your session. I tell people I work with in therapy that THOSE sessions, when you DO show up, are often the most meaningful and powerful ones. Hesitation can serve as a signal that important work is about to be done. Showing up and telling your therapist that you contemplated canceling can open up a significant dialogue about where you are in your healing process, as well as where you’re going.

Don’t throw a dart at an online directory. Take responsibility for your healing as best you can. Don’t expect that every therapist will be the perfect match for you. Find the right fit. Feel the relief and self-assuredness that you are making an informed choice when you make that call and schedule your first therapy appointment.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC, therapist in Randolph, New Jersey

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Landon

    June 25th, 2015 at 8:46 AM

    always best to have some questions prepared and ready

  • Arthur

    June 25th, 2015 at 4:53 PM

    It’s kind of like a job interview. You have a right to know things about this therapist and you have the right o ask him or her questions. Now whether they choose to answer or not is up to them and you are the one who has to know where you want to draw the line and what makes you comfortable or not. It’s all about finding someone with whom you can relate and whom you feel can best help you get to the places you wish to go on this private and personal journey.

  • Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    June 25th, 2015 at 6:13 PM

    Absolutely Landon!

  • Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    June 26th, 2015 at 4:46 AM

    Yes, Arthur, you’re right. You are essentially interviewing a potential therapist to ensure that person is appropriate to your counseling needs. Because it’s so important that therapy feel “safe,” getting the answers that will put you at ease or help you to understand how it will work can be critical to setting the stage for a meaningful counseling process. If you have questions, be sure to ask them. And if you’re someone who has trouble doing that, simply tell your potential therapist, “I have questions.” Seeing how responsive the therapist is and whether he or she takes the time to encourage you to continue will offer you clues about what it will be like to work with that person. Thanks, Arthur, for making a very important point!

  • Stephan

    June 26th, 2015 at 7:10 AM

    While some people would be embarrassed to ask for referrals I definitely talked to my friends about who saw whom and how they liked them before making a preliminary consult appointment.

    You just have to have this feeling like you are going to click with someone when you are looking for a therapist and I think that my friends know me pretty well so that helped me get a feel for whom I wanted to work with.

  • Lana Y

    June 26th, 2015 at 12:50 PM

    Unfortunately for many of us it has become more about checking with your insurance to make sure that this will be a covered service.

  • Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    June 26th, 2015 at 1:50 PM

    Stephan, it’s wonderful that you and your friends were able to share that information with one another. A friend’s recommendation certainly means a lot!

  • Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    June 26th, 2015 at 2:05 PM

    Lana, for sure! It’s also important to find out if you have “out of network” behavioral health benefits if you happen to find a therapist that you’d really like to work with that is not covered by your insurance.

  • Lana Y

    June 27th, 2015 at 8:51 AM

    I think that is so ridiculous, that I so often have to make a compromise in my own health care based on whether or not this person happens to be a participating provider in my network. You would think that it is enough that if I deem this person to be a good fit for me then I should be allowed to use my benefits however I want. But no, there are all of these crazy stipulations that we have to adhere to that sort of makes you think at times that this kind f healthcare system may not be all that it is cracked up to be. But hey I guess that’s fodder for another discussion.

  • Seth

    June 28th, 2015 at 7:56 AM

    It could be a wise move to take a look online and read what others have to say about several therapists that you could be considering. I know that there are a lost of websites out there that offer reviews of pretty much any healthcare provider, and so if you think that you can be objective and that they are being objective, then this could be a good way to get some ideas about people who could relate to and trust. And then you have to be willing to do some more personal research, meet with them one on one and have a discussion about what you are seeking and I think that once you meet someone and put all of the pieces together then you will have a pretty good idea if this is a person that will work for you.

  • Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    June 28th, 2015 at 6:53 PM

    Yes, Seth, the research is so important. Ultimately, it’s always about finding the right fit for YOU.

    Lana, I just want to acknowledge your above thoughts. I hear what you’re saying.

  • delta

    June 29th, 2015 at 11:23 AM

    The biggest misconception abut the whole process of therapy is that you go and sit down and someone will give you then answers that you feel have eluded you.

    That is SOOO not the way it works it is not funny.

    So do you have to do some hard work during this process? Of course you do, this is all about self improvement and getting to a place that feels better for you in life.

    Therefore that means that there will be some hard work that has to be done on your part.

  • Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC

    June 29th, 2015 at 7:14 PM

    You’re right Delta. Therapy requires effort and consistency on the client’s part for sure.

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