Going to therapy for the first time is a hugely daunting experience for most. There’s a lot of feelings that come with deciding to engage with a therapeutic professional. You might feel vulnerable, apprehensive, scared, nervous and some people can even find themselves feeling as if they’ve failed somehow.
These feelings are all very normal. Firstly, choosing to engage with therapy is the exact opposite of failure. Choosing to step into the unknown and trusting that somehow it will make things better is pretty much the definition of brave.
In all the time that we’ve been working in and writing about social issues, suicide prevention and mental health we’ve been asked a lot of questions about therapy. Here, we’ve put together some of our best tips on what to expect when engaging with therapy for the first time.
Therapy is like speed-dating
Very often, people find themselves feeling very let down after their first therapy session, and they feel like maybe they were wrong to try it. This usually happens because the person simply didn’t click with their therapist. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means you may have to try to find someone new or request a swap.
The thoughts of switching therapists can be really worrying for some people who might be afraid of offending the therapist they first attended. Therapists are very aware of how important the clients comfort is to the therapeutic relationship and any well-trained therapist will be glad that you made the decision to try with someone new.
Don’t be afraid to try 3, 4 or even 5 therapists if you have to.
Feeling safe is everything
One of the most important parts of therapy is your safety. Not physical safety (this is a given) but emotional safety. You should feel like you can tell your therapist anything without fear of being judged, feeling guilty or being patronised.
It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous about opening up. However, your therapist should create a feeling of emotional safety by signalling to you that whatever you share can be worked through. If you don’t get this feeling after a few sessions, it may be time to try another therapist!
Silence is ok
One of the hardest thing for people to get used to when working with a therapist or any helping profession is their comfort with silence. In therapy there’s gonna be lots of silences. At first, you’re probably going to feel like you have to fill these silences. Some people try to fill them with small talk, others with jokes or dark humour and other people will panic and ask lots of questions.
In time, you’ll begin to get more and more comfortable with silences. You’ll slowly start to realise that silences can be used for emotional rest after a hard conversation, they can allow you a moment to think and process or they can just be used as a minute of down-time in a world that never stops talking. You’ll get there.
Vulnerability feels hard because it is hard
It’s probably fair to assume that almost everyone has struggled with vulnerability at some point in time. Therapy and opening up to another person about your deepest thoughts is probably the most vulnerable thing you can do. Feelings of vulnerability will be present all throughout your therapeutic journey, the only thing that changes is your comfort level with feeling vulnerable.
Some people will bounce their foot, others will fidget with their fingers, and if you’re like me – you’ll pull at your ears. All of us will express our feelings of vulnerability in different ways. If you’ve nabbed yourself a good therapist she or he will recognise your feelings and will work a little bit harder to make you feel a little bit safer.
Once you crack the vulnerability code, you’ll see dramatic changes in how you approach every-day situations.
Brene Brown talks a lot about vulnerability, watch her viral Ted Talk on it here.
In your first session, your therapist might ask a lot of questions
This can throw people a bit. This might feel a little intimidating and you might find yourself wondering if this is what therapy is. It’s not. In your first session, your therapist is doing their best to learn as much as they can about you and maybe even what brought you to them. They do this so they can try to figure out the best way to help and support you.
Your therapist might ask what has led you to therapy. I know for me, when I wasn’t ready for this question, I didn’t really know how to answer it concisely. This might be something for you to think about before your session so that you don’t feel caught off-guard.
It’s important to know that you might feel really raw after your first few sessions. Therapy can be a really emotionally-demanding experience and it can be normal to feel exhausted, raw or upset after your first few sessions. It’s important to be honest with your therapist about these feelings and after a while those feelings should become less intense.
Therapy is hard but it’s worth it, promise!
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