I’ve been in many types of therapy throughout the years, and soon I start a new journey with a new mental health professional. I wanted to remind myself what I’m in for, and figured it would be good to share.
Here’s some basic advice I have for anyone who may be starting their own mental health journey.
The first few sessions will be awkward for both of you. It doesn’t matter how much experience the professional has, it’s still meeting a new person on both sides of that chair/couch. If you have difficulties with first impressions, say it outright. If you’re anxious, say it. If you think you may not be able to say what you want, write it ahead of time. It takes time to build trust and rapport with someone: mention this if trust is one of your issues.
Expect the first appointment to be clarifying where you are medically and laying out what you plan on doing. What medications are you taking? What is your living situation? Do you have any other medical conditions? Have you had other therapy: what’s been helpful and what hasn’t? How’s your social situation? Are you in a relationship? Etc. These might seem intrusive, but the professional is trying to get a baseline of your current situation so that they know where to start their focus. Some will even take note quietly on your presentation: from personal hygiene to how you present yourself. After this, it’s best to discuss what you hope to get out of your sessions, and maybe even have visible goals so you can see you’re making progress.
A therapeutic hour is not 60 minutes. Your session will be (majority of the time) 50 minutes. The last 10 are designated for the professional to make any last notes of the session. Some sessions may be shorter or longer depending of if you are in distress, or not in need of their assistance.
You will be ignored in public. If you see your professional in public, and they ignore you, don’t take this personally. They are bound by confidentiality as they don’t wish to accidentally out you for seeking mental health treatment. In most cases, if you engage them in public, they will engage back, but it may be limited. It’s always a good idea to speak to your professional in session to determine what their personal boundaries with clients are outside of the office.
Trust your gut, and tell your professional to see if it can be worked out. If there’s something not sitting with you about your professional, bring it up. This can be as minor as how they are sitting, how they word their questions, to feeling like the sessions aren’t going anywhere. This way you can work on conflict resolution skills, or if the professional isn’t a good fit and need to find you someone new.
Figure out the end at the start. This process is called termination, and it’s best to talk about it at the beginning so that it doesn’t come as a surprise or shock. Sometimes you can build a really strong bond with your professional, and they’ll want to work with you so that you can deal with life without them.
And lastly, be truthful, open, and vulnerable. You’ll get the most out of your session by not holding anything back. You may find yourself unable sometimes, and this is okay. Be sure to vocalize this to your professional so they can help you get around what’s causing you to stop. If you feel miserable afterwards, this too is normal. Tell your professional what’s been happening in-between sessions. It could be that their methods are too tough and they have to modify, and/or they need to work on proper coping skills you can do for self-care.