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  • Gina Griffin

What to Expect In Your First Therapy Session

(Disclaimer: This blog post is not a substitute for therapy.)

If therapy is new to you, attending a first session might be a little intimidating. For some folks, that might just be because of the unknown. For others, there may have been family or cultural ideas and attitudes about therapy that can make it hard to take the plunge, now. But if you’re tired of struggling on your own, and you’ve decided that it’s time to try therapy, here are some common things that you can expect.

First, you will have to decide on the type of provider that you’d like to work with. There are psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and mental health counselors. Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD). They can provide therapy as well as the option of medication. These days, most psychiatrists provide very limited therapy, in which case you will probably also want or need a therapist, unless you believe that medication is all that you want at this time. Psychologists are doctoral-level therapists who have also been trained to do research and psychological testing (PhD or PsyD). Clinical social workers, such as myself (LCSW, LICSW, etc) are generally masters-level providers who have been trained to approach their clients by also taking into consideration the impact of the systems that surround them, such as families, workplaces, and so forth. Mental Health Counselors (LMHC) are also trained to treat the client as a whole person, and they will have completed a master’s program. None of these are bad choices. Ultimately, you want to find someone who you feel you can communicate with, and who is an ally in helping you to meet your therapy goals.

During your first session, you will likely complete an assessment, and your therapist will gather some information on your background. They may use formal measures, which are questionnaires that help to figure out how intense your symptoms are. These can also help to figure out your diagnosis, or your main treatment goals. You will also be asked about your past and present life; substance use (no judgment, just any problems this may be giving you); medical history (including physical illnesses and mental health diagnoses that may run in your family); and any history of therapy. Finally, after putting all of this together, you and your provider will figure out what is happening to you, and what type of treatment may be helpful. This might not sound like the most fun; but a good therapist will help you to feel more at ease as you go through this process.

Most therapists will also have an area of specialty. While most of us can and do treat a variety of problems, we will also have one or two things at which we excel. In my case this is trauma/PTSD, depression, and teaching mindfulness. For others, this may be couples counseling, eating disorders, or OCD. So, this can be an important thing to consider.

My best advice to people who are new to therapy?

  • Make the best use of a free 15-minute consultation. Find someone who is a really good fit for you.

  • Be as honest as you can be. It can feel weird to be so open with someone who is basically a stranger, at this stage. But we can’t help you if we don’t know what’s going on. And a good therapist is not there to judge you.

  • Stick with it. You will be uncomfortable. There will probably be times when you want to quit. But give therapy some time to work.

And hang in there, and do the work. It’s the best way to start to move towards the life that you want.

Gina Griffin, DSW, MSW, LCSW

Frostflower Counseling


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