Your first visit with a psychotherapist

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Are you a first-time therapy goer?

If you've recently thought about seeing a psychotherapist, I imagine it can cause some anxiety even before your first appointment.

I've been practicing for almost a decade, but I had to go through my process to become a therapist.

So here are some things to consider when you're approaching your future psychotherapist.

Most of us end up reaching out to a therapist who's been recommended by a friend or a loved one. Sure, it seems like a good vetting system from a trustworthy source. But keep in mind that it doesn't necessarily mean that this is the right person for you. Just as you could rely on your best friend to order your dinner for you, maybe in that moment of your life you feel that you need something else.

If you go online to do your own research in regards to whom you could approach for starting your process, information overload might be draining all your energy. And by the time you decide with whom you should have your first appointment, you'd most likely be in pain for quite a while.

If you ask your GP for a recommendation, you might end up on a waiting list that gives you anything from a couple of weeks up to a couple of months' waiting time. And again, you've probably been waiting to talk to someone and get some relief for quite a while.

Seems like I'm making this too complicated?

Sorry, I don't intend to. But I do want to emphasize that there is no one size fits all type of therapist. And you should seriously stay away from those who claim they are. Just like with a medical prescription, if your friend is doing well with a particular drug, it doesn't mean the same treatment will be good for you. And I do think that the most crucial aspect to consider before you choose your therapist, is your work compatibility with them.

I always bring this up with my prospective clients during our assessment meeting in which we both get to ask questions and share who we are, with the sole purpose of seeing if we are a good fit. I never ask them to set a new appointment right away, and even with those who want to, I encourage them to at least sleep on it and call me the next day with their decision.

My biggest surprise is to see that people rarely think that they have the right to ask questions about their potential future therapist. And that most don't even do it before their first appointment or even during the first session.

Are you wondering what kind of questions you can ask your psychotherapist?

You're probably wondering what's appropriate to ask - as you don't want them to call you out for being too much of a curious cat. So here are some ideas of what you could ask - besides the technical and administrative details of your collaboration - like costs and frequency of sessions. Before you allow yourself to enter into a therapeutic relationship, you could consider asking "How long have you been a psychotherapist for?" or "What kind of therapy do you specialize in?". These questions can give you some insights into their level of experience and the type of expertise they can offer.

Another good one to sum up your first encounter with is: “What should I expect from working with you throughout this process?”. Here you can get a glimpse of what’s to come, and you’re giving your therapist the chance to share how they envision working with you in the future. Even asking “How will we know we have reached the end of my need for your service?” can tell you if your therapist already has a bit of an idea on how this process will unfold.

Your time to listen...

By asking a few open-ended questions to the person you are considering as the confidential trustee of your most intimate thoughts and feelings, you get to hear them talk. You'll have the chance to listen and see how articulate they are, the kind of language they use, and how soothing their voice is to you. This first interaction can be like cracking the door open on what's to come and give you some reassurance that you will be in good care.

Trust yourself in assessing this person with whom you are about to begin a therapeutic relationship. The worst possible thing you can do to yourself is to allow yourself to be handled entirely by someone else. Remember, your psychotherapist is not an expert on you, nor are you a passive part of your process.

Therapy is like a dance of personal history, ideas, and emotions. And you might start without knowing the choreography, but you and your therapist should work together as partners to prepare you for your solo dance recital...

Which is what your life should be, at the end of an excellent therapeutic process.