Are you going to see a psychologist for the first time? Good for you for making your mental health a priority! Here are some tips to make sure your first appointment runs smoothly.
The first session
The first session with a psychologist can be daunting, and understandably so. The fear of the unexpected, of being judged, of not connecting – you are not alone in feeling trepidation about telling your life’s secrets to a complete stranger. The important thing to remember is that you’ve taken the hardest step already, and that is reaching out for help in the first place. Just acknowledging your own need for outside assistance is a massive achievement.
Let’s break down this ‘dreaded’ first appointment into less ominous parts..
Preparing for the conversation
You may think of many things you’d like to say or discuss with your psychologist prior to the session, only to forget them in the moment of the appointment. It is a good idea to make a list to take in with you. List things like:
- What you hope to get out of your sessions
- What you think your main struggles are
- Any questions you would like to ask the therapist
- What your ultimate goal is
If you have never been to the psychologist’s office before, plan to arrive early. There is nothing worse than adding the stress of being late to an already potentially stressful experience. You may also need to fill in some paperwork on arrival and you don’t want to be wasting your session time on paperwork.
Meeting your Psychologist
Your psychologist will usually come out and greet you, maybe shake hands and lead you to their office. The office will likely look like a doctor’s office, but with two couches facing each other. Outside of Hollywood, it is unlikely that you will be made to drape yourself on a chaise lounge. More typically, you will sit on one couch and the therapist on the other and you’ll engage in a conversation.
The psychologist will commonly ask you why you have come to see them. In this appointment, they are establishing what your motivations are, a bit of your history, your family’s mental health history, how you see yourself, the problems you are dealing with, and they are starting to formulate a treatment plan. It is important to be completely honest with them. Don’t worry about saying too much or too little. The psychologist will prompt and guide you as needed. Remember they are professionals who are trained to listen and analyse in order to help. Also remember nothing shocks them. You have come this far so you might as well be completely upfront because you really have nothing to lose and so much to gain.
After your allotted 50 minutes or so, you should have a good feel of the dynamic between yourself and your psychologist. Towards the end of your session, your psychologist may like to summarise what you have discussed and ask you what you will take away from this session. They will watch the time so you don’t have to and they will let you know when it’s time to end the session.
After your appointment
You might like take notes during your session of any key things that stand out for you. Often during the conversation there will be moments of realisation and understanding that are difficult to recall afterwards. If you don’t want to take notes in the session, maybe write down or keep a notes tab in your phone after the session so you can refer back to them later in the week.
Allow yourself some downtime after the session to decompress and process. Everyone feels differently when coming out of a session. You may feel elated or exhausted or relieved. However you feel, be sure to take stock of these feelings and give yourself some introspection time before rushing back out into life.
Was the Psychologist right for you?
We strongly believe in finding the ‘right fit’. For any real life change to be effective, you need build trust and develop a strong connection with your psychologist. Relationships vary depending on the person, so don’t feel bad if you didn’t click with your psychologist. There are many more people out there and we can help you find the right one for you.
Here are some questions to ask yourself if the psychologist is right for you:
- Did they show acceptance and compassion?
- Did they develop at plan to guide you to your goals?
- Did they make you feel heard and validated?
- Were they trustworthy and did you feel comfortable with them?
- Do they have expertise working with issues like yours?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions then you might be better off switch psychologists. At the end of your session, all you have to do is tell your therapist that you will not be returning. You don’t disclose the reason or tell them you’d prefer to not say. Your psychologist will not be offended.
The idea of the initial session is understandably a bit scary, but in reality, it can be the start of a life-changing process. If, after a few sessions, you don’t feel a connection with your therapist, it is okay to change to a different one. People are different and not every lid fits every pot. Once you find a therapist you connect with, you can start the real work of developing a better mind-space for yourself to live in.
This article was originally published by our newest social enterprise, Radiant. Radiant helps people seeking mental health support to find the right match for them. Learn more