Here’s what to expect.

One of the most difficult parts of going to therapy can be calling and making an appointment in the first place. We’ve come a long way in reducing stigma, but there are still so many unknowns. What will people think? What is it going to be like? Am I going to be respected and validated? Is my experience “bad” enough to warrant therapy? To make the process a little bit easier, let’s talk about what therapy is not, what it is, and what you can expect in the first session.

Therapy is not just a place to vent

Part of therapy is talking through experiences and emotions. Just releasing and voicing what’s been simmering inside of us can be therapeutic in itself. However, therapy more than just talking. It is also a place to learn coping mechanisms and find new perspectives. With therapy comes a lot of emotional work. A therapist’s job is not to solve your problems or take away your distress. His or her job is to work with you to process your emotions and give you tools to cope with life’s challenges, especially after you leave their office.

It can be scary going to therapy for the first time. Remember that you can expect your therapist to treat you with respect and empathy. Meeting with a therapist is like recruiting a well-trained team member in the game of mental health. Not just hiring a business consultant to point out all the errors you need to fix. Therapists are on your side.

Child at therapy

Therapy is a way to build an emotional toolbox

Many individuals start therapy with jumbled thoughts, emotions, and experiences that they haven’t been able to process alone. A therapist can help you untangle those thoughts, emotions, and experiences. They can help you see them in a different light and decrease your distress.

There are many different ways to approach therapy. You may want to look for a therapist that specializes in whatever it is that you are struggling with. For example, trauma or depression. Or, you can do some research on different types of therapy modalities. Some of these include CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). You don’t have to know exactly what kind of therapy you want before making an appointment. Gaining a basic understanding of different techniques can help you know what to expect as you work with a therapist to create goals and build a plan.

Through these processes, your therapist can suggest activities or homework for you to work on both in and out of session. Some examples of what you might work on include coping mechanisms, grounding exercises that can help you recenter yourself, and cognitive behavioral exercises that can help you change your thinking and behavior. They may give you materials to review or actions to take before your next session.

The first session is a time of introduction, release, and expectation-setting

At your first session, you’ll check in with a receptionist and then wait in the lobby area. Your therapist will come out to meet you and take you back to their office, just like a doctor appointment. Then you will fill out new client forms and complete an intake form or survey. The therapist may give you a physical form or just ask you questions verbally.

Your therapist may start by introducing themselves and setting expectations for your first session or they may simply ask you to start by introducing yourself and why you wanted to come in. Some people start by just letting everything out, while others engage in more of a back-and-forth discussion about their reasons for coming in. Do whatever is comfortable for you. There is no one way to do therapy. Every person is different with different experiences, so you don’t need to worry that you are doing it wrong.

Sessions usually last about 45-50 minutes and most people can expect to meet with their therapist once a week. During your session, your therapist will keep their eye on the clock and help you to know when it is time to wrap up and set your next appointment. How many therapy sessions you need will be unique to you and your situation.

You’ve got this

Whatever you are dealing with, remember that your therapist is a person with strengths and weaknesses, just like you. You don’t have to perform or do it “right.” Remember to have patience with yourself and the process. If you have been thinking about making an appointment with a therapist, don’t wait. Make the call.

BYU Comprehensive Clinic offers therapy on a sliding scale for individuals living in Utah County.

Guest post by Alexis Inouye

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