Great Expectations: A First Therapy Appointment

A few days ago, I received a call from someone who had been eyeing my website and mulling over the idea of therapy for a while. Gradually she described her situation, closing in from the position of a consumer making a smart shopping decision to someone in pain and clearly in need of help. After another 10 minutes of talk, she took the plunge and set up a session. A moment before we hung up she said, “Wait! What should I expect?”

And that’s a great question. A first appointment should help you decide if the therapist is someone you want to work with.  It doesn’t matter how long you are planning to be in therapy or what your presenting issue might be. The question is this: “Can the therapist help you grow?”

You’ll get your first clue the moment you walk in the door,  before any words are spoken. It’s the “vibes” you get from the therapist’s office. Is the space comfortable for you?  Safe, inviting, private and a place where you could imagine spending time sharing who you are as well as your deepest pains?  (I once did a consult in an office where the chairs were so far apart it made me wonder if this person really wanted to be close to anyone!) If you don’t feel good in the physical space, your sessions won’t feel good either.  

Assuming the space feels right to you, it all comes down to the therapist. Do you like this person?  Is he or she warm? Do you have a sense of personality?  Do you want someone who you feel warmth towards, or do you want someone more distant who does not give out any information about themselves and just focuses on you? For some people, warmth and empathy is essential; others want the therapist to be blank and unknown

Emoting aside, is the therapist encouraging? At the bottom end of the scale, one client relayed to me how a prospective therapist told her that only when she could stop being a “crybaby about her childhood” would she be “ready” for therapy.  Ouch–as if abuse is something you just stop “crying” about, like spilled milk! You should NEVER leave a consult feeling hopeless or as if the therapist doesn’t want to work with you.  And never leave feeling unsafe. Go with your gut instincts.

Finally, after the appointment you should not feel as if the therapist is pressuring you to decide if you want to sign on for more sessions.  You shouldn’t feel that the therapist is disappointed if you need time to think it over and figure out if you want to come back.  And you should NEVER leave with an uneasy feeling that if you don’t come back you are in deep emotional trouble.  

The bottom line: This is YOUR therapy, and YOU get to make the decisions!. 

 

 

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