Let's talk about how to prepare for your first session with your therapist.
When matching seekers with the right therapist or wellness coach for them, we see ALL THE TIME that there is a lot of stress and anxiety building up to the first session, and very understandably so. It feels like a really big moment and you're never really taught or guided around how to prepare.
We are so grateful today to learn from Julia Colangelo, a New York City therapist and MyWellbeing member, about her 3 tips to prepare for your first session.
Awesome! You’ve got the appointment, know how to get to the therapist’s office, completed any paperwork, and feel at least mildly proud of yourself for doing all of that legwork (even if My Wellbeing matched you with your therapist).
It’s the night before your first session and you’re ready to take this step towards living your best life, resolving some current challenges, or taking a deeper look at your experiences and how they impact the way you relate to the world and those around you.
You’re gearing up for the session with some anxiety, uncertainty, and awareness.
You think about how you met a guidance counselor in high school when you had some difficulty concentrating, saw a therapist in graduate school when you were going through some major life changes, and, attended some wellness workshops at work out of curiosity. You remember often feeling “better,” after the sessions, almost like something magical happened that helped you shift your life around and move through a difficult transition.
The magic often unfolds over time due to commitment, focus, strategy, or features referred to as the therapeutic approach and alliance.
Therapy is perhaps the only space that encourages you to be unapologetically you. This means you can bring your shame, vulnerability, pain, and uncertainty. Your therapist is professionally trained to support you emotionally and over encourage and nudge you towards areas you express you’d like to change. Therapy allows for balancing elements of acceptance and change so you can live life with more ease.
So back to the night before your first session.
I encourage my clients to reflect before our first session and consider the following prompts:
1. What are my goals in therapy?
For some people it’s to “feel better” or “feel differently.” If you’re saying this, I encourage you to try and get a bit more specific. Does this mean “stop going on dates with the wrong people,” “panic less about flying cross-country,” “Worry less about making the right choices,” or “stop berating myself anytime I have dessert?”
Whatever your goals are: communicate them to your therapist! It can be easy to fall into a routine once you feel comfortable with a therapist, but make sure that routine is one that you want to have with your therapist and feels different from a routine you may have with a friend, parent, or partner. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you find you’re not focusing on what you want to be during session. Instead, find ways to remind yourself of why you wanted to see a therapist in the first place.
2. If you’ve been in therapy before, what worked with the last therapist?
Consider what you enjoyed about whoever previously helped you. Did they validate your struggle? Did they teach skills to combat your stress and anxiety? Were they relatable? Did they share their observations?
3. What didn’t work the last time you saw a therapist?
As a strengths-based and solution-focused therapist, I don’t ruminate on the past, but it’s critical to acknowledge what didn’t work during past therapy experiences. Your experience with your therapist should be better than “good enough for now.” After all, your relationship with your therapist has the potential to change your entire life’s course.
By reflecting on the above prompts, you have an even better sense for what you want from your therapy sessions and are ready for step two…
Tell your new therapist about what did or didn’t work in the past and share about your current goals in therapy. Nearly all therapists are trained to meet their client wherever they are in their change process. This means therapists won’t rush or force a change until there is an established relationship or until the client vocalizes wanting to change something. We support our clients in transforming the way they relate to themselves and others around them at their own pace. Because of this, unless our clients ask for something different, we won’t necessarily try a distinctive approach.
As therapists, we want you to achieve your goals, experience relief of stress and anxiety, and live life on your terms, whatever that looks like.
Good luck on this next chapter of your awesome journey.
We hope these tips have been helpful for you in your therapy beginnings. Big thank you to Julia Colangelo, LCSW for her perspective today.
To see Julia talking through these tips as close to IRL as possible, check out our Instagram stories (and highlights on this and other topics) @findmywellbeing.
What topics do you want to hear about most? We’d love to source experts to share more perspective with you. Let us know at [email protected].
Julia Colangelo, LCSW, SIFI, is a therapist, supervisor, wellness consultant, and educator. Julia provides short-term and solution-focused therapy by integrating cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness practices. Julia works with high-achievers to change the way they relate to stress, uncertainty, and anxiety so they can maximize their full potential in their personal and professional lives. Additionally, Julia instructs on topics of Mindfulness and Clinical Practice at Columbia University. Please contact Julia at [email protected], or visit her website at: www.juliacolangelo.com