A teen girl logs into her first therapy session online

What to Expect in Your First Therapy Session

7 min.

Whether it's your first time ever trying therapy or if you're starting a new type of therapy program, here's what you need to know to feel prepared and ready to begin your healing journey.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC

January 27, 2023


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Table of Contents

For some, therapy can be a nerve-wracking experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s what you can expect during your first session.

An overview of your first session 

  1. Therapists will usually start by asking you some questions about yourself and your current situation. They may also ask about your mental health history, family history, and any traumas or stressors you’ve experienced. This information helps the therapist get to know you and understand what might be going on for you. 
  2. Next, the therapist will likely explain their approach to therapy and how they think they can help you. 
  3. Then, they’ll give you a chance to share whatever is on your mind. The therapist will listen closely and ask questions to help you explore your thoughts and feelings. 
  4. Lastly, the therapist will wrap up the session by summarizing what was discussed and setting some goals for future sessions. 

Identify the goals of your first therapy session

A typical first therapy appointment is designed to help both the therapist and patient get to know each other in a way that allows for a productive and meaningful relationship. The overall goal of a good first session is to create an environment where there can be an open dialogue between patient and therapist that goes beyond just the facts or surface-level conversations. It’s also important for both individuals to discuss expectations for the sessions ahead so each person can have a better understanding of what the process looks like. 

At the end of the first counseling session, the therapist and patient should be able to recognize how they can best work together towards meeting the goals of therapy set by each individual.

Tips for getting the most out of your first therapy session

Going to a first therapy session is a daunting experience but it can also be very liberating. One way to make the most of the first full session is to go in with an open mind.  

Try to think about what you are looking for out of the therapy process and be ready to discuss any feelings, thoughts or experiences leading up to the first session. During this first stage, it is important to establish goals and honest communication so that you build on every step going forward. As much as possible, try and focus on yourself first, then outside influences or potential solutions later. 

Starting strong by providing specific details right off the bat can help ensure that both parties get the most out of your first session together. And remember: it is normal and expected to ask your potential therapist questions.

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Is your first session different if it’s virtual?

Attending virtual therapy (including virtual IOP) may feel strange at first. After all, it’s a different form of attending therapy from the traditional in-person way. However, online therapy is far from unfamiliar territory for therapists. 

Experienced mental health professionals are available and can help guide you through your first virtual therapy appointment. In fact, many find virtual therapy as equally beneficial as in-person sessions because it often allows for increased flexibility in terms of timing and location. So if you are looking to experience virtual therapy, embrace the unfamiliarity with optimism and know that you’ll be surrounded by knowledge and expertise.

What about your first virtual group therapy session?

Your first virtual group therapy session can be both daunting and exciting. In an ideal setting, you will be surrounded by supportive peers that can relate to what you’re going through, which can help with feelings of isolation. 

The virtual nature of these sessions means you won’t have to leave the comfort of your home to get the support you need. This can help you feel safer, more relaxed, and more willing to open up. Importantly, virtual group therapy or supported groups allow you to develop coping and relationship-building skills while in a supported environment.

What different types of therapy are there? 

Therapy has become increasingly popular as a way to help people overcome mental health struggles. There are numerous types of therapy available, some of which include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy skills, family therapy, group therapy and supported groups, motivational interviewing, virtual IOP, and even yoga therapy. Here is a brief overview of these major types of therapeutic modalities: 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of talk-therapy that focuses on addressing cognitive distortions and replacing harmful behaviors with ones that are more beneficial. 

Dialectical behavior therapy skills (DBT)

DBT is an evidence-based psychotherapy used to teach individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many other mental health issues how to regulate emotions in a healthier way. 

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Individual therapy 

Individual therapy is a form of treatment in which a person meets one-on-one with a trained therapist to discuss and work through personal issues and concerns. The goal of individual therapy is to help the person understand and cope with their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, and to make positive changes in their life.

Family therapy 

Family therapy encourages families to improve communication within relationships while understanding each other’s point of view. 

Group therapy and supported groups

These types of therapy practices aim to connect several people together with the goal of developing positive coping strategies through conversation and insight from peers who understand similar struggles. 

Motivational interviewing

Motivational Interviewing is a counseling method that helps individuals resolve ambivalent feelings and insecurities to find the internal motivation they need to change their behavior. It is a collaborative, person-centered form of guiding to elicit and strengthen motivation for change.

Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program

Virtual IOP brings together cognitive-behavioral elements including cognitive processing disorder or cognitive restructuring in a session environment that increases understanding symptom management techniques. 

Yoga therapy

Yoga therapy is a holistic approach that can be used to treat a wide range of conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and more. Yoga therapy is typically provided by trained professionals in one-on-one or small group settings.

The role of your therapist in your healing journey

 Different therapists or other types of mental health professionals can play an important role in your healing. 

Whether you are dealing with anxiety, depression, trauma, or any other number of mental health issues, research has shown that therapy–including virtual intensive outpatient (IOP) programs–can nurture long-lasting and sustainable healing. 

With the right therapist and given enough time facilitated by consistent professional counseling, you can come to truly understand what obstacles you face in life and craft solutions to overcome them.You will be provided the opportunity to work through any trauma-based issues that may inhibit progress as well as gain the insight needed for successful completion of treatment. Your therapist will help catalyze profound transformation through awareness, understanding, and action steps you can easily take in your everyday life.

How to prepare for future therapy sessions

Preparing for future therapy sessions is an important way to ensure you’re getting the most out of your time and on a positive track toward your mental health goals. Here’s how you can prepare: 

  1. Take mental notes before each appointment and honestly reflect on the mental health issue at hand. Consider any difficult emotions that may have arisen and questions you have. Be honest about the topics discussed, and consider any changes in the therapeutic process that were recommended or helpful. 
  2. Continue to write down any questions you have about therapy or how it works. This will help put your mind at ease and ensure that you get the most out of your future sessions.
  3. Acknowledging how far you have come in your mental health journey is a necessary step towards personal growth, so jotting down successes achieved through the reoccurring sessions can also help highlight progress over time. 
  4. Remember that therapy is confidential – anything you discuss will be kept between you and your therapist.

In order to best prepare for subsequent sessions, staying mindful of your mental health condition and emotion is key to getting the most out of your treatment plan. 

Lastly, It’s important to note that the initial session may be different depending on the therapist, the client, and the type of therapy. Therefore, it’s important to communicate with your therapist in case you have any questions or concerns regarding your first therapy session. 

Getting started with Charlie Health

From individual therapy to family therapy to group therapy and supported groups, there are many options to consider when it comes to finding the right type of care that works best for you. Virtual intensive outpatient programs (IOP) and other resources provide additional support if traditional forms of talk therapy don’t fit your needs or lifestyle. No matter where you are in your healing journey, remember that you don’t have to go through it alone and help is available. Charlie Health’s team of compassionate mental healht professionals is ready to get you started today

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