A teen girl logs into her first therapy session online

What to Expect in Your First Therapy Session

Updated: February 29, 2024

6 min.

So you decided to start therapy—now what? 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: Dr. Don Gasparini

Learn more about our Clinical Review Process


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Table of Contents

For some, starting therapy (also known as talk therapy or psychotherapy) can be a nerve-wracking experience—but it doesn’t have to be. Whether it’s your first therapy session ever or you’re starting a new therapy program, here’s what you need to know about how to feel prepared going into your initial session. Keep reading for an overview of questions to ask your therapist during your first session and more.

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What to expect from a first therapy session

During a first therapy session, you can expect the therapist to ask about your reasons for seeking therapy, your personal history, and your goals for therapy. 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. 

Next, they may explain their approach to therapy and discuss confidentiality and session logistics. This is a chance for you to ask questions and learn more about how they think they can help you. Time permitting, they may give you a chance to share a bit more about what is on your mind, all while listening, asking questions, and helping you explore your thoughts and feelings. 

At the end of the session, the therapist will probably wrap up by summarizing what was discussed and setting some goals for future sessions. Overall, the first therapy session is an opportunity for you to get to know the therapist and determine if they are the right therapist for you and for the therapist to gather information to create a treatment plan tailored to your needs.

Tips for getting the most out of your first therapy session

Here are three tips for making the most out of your first therapy session. By taking these steps, you can lay a strong foundation for a successful therapeutic journey.

Think about your goals

Before your first therapy session, take some time to think about your therapy goals and what you hope to achieve through therapy. Reflect on the specific areas of your life where you're seeking improvement or support. Consider writing down your thoughts and feelings about these goals, as well as any questions or concerns you have about therapy. Having a clear understanding of what you want to work on can help guide the conversation during your session and ensure that you and your therapist are on the same page from the start.

Come prepared with some questions to ask

Prepare some questions to ask during your first therapy session to help you feel informed and comfortable. Remember: it is normal and expected to ask your potential therapist questions. Here are some examples of questions people may ask during a first therapy session: 

  • What approach do you use in therapy?
  • How experienced are you in dealing with issues like mine?
  • How often will our sessions be, and how long might therapy last?
  • How will we measure progress in therapy?
  • Can you explain your confidentiality policy?
  • What are your qualifications and background?
  • How do you handle emergencies or cancellations?
  • What should I expect from therapy?
  • How will you involve me in the therapy process?
  • What strategies do you typically use to help clients with similar concerns?

Share what’s on your mind, honestly

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 initial session. During this first stage, it is important to establish 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. 

Is your first session different if it's virtual?

Attending virtual therapy (including a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program) may feel strange at first. After all, it’s a different form of attending therapy from the traditional in-person way. However, while the format may be different, the goals and objectives of the first therapy session remain consistent, whether it's conducted virtually or in person. 

Many of the same principles outlined above apply to a first online therapy session, such as reflecting on your goals, preparing questions, and being open and honest with your therapist. However, instead of getting yourself to an appointment, you may need to familiarize yourself with the technology platform being used for the session and ensure you have a quiet, private space where you can fully engage in the session without distractions. 

Experienced mental health professionals are available and can help guide you through your first online therapy appointment. In fact, research shows that most people find virtual therapy as equally beneficial as in-person sessions (and nearly half of clinicians agree, too, according to another study). 

What are the signs of a successful first therapy session?

Signs of a successful first therapy session may include:

  • Feeling heard and understood by the therapist
  • Establishing a sense of rapport and comfort with the therapist
  • Setting clear goals and expectations for therapy
  • Feeling hopeful or motivated about the therapeutic process
  • Receiving helpful feedback or guidance from the therapist
  • Feeling validated and supported in addressing your concerns
  • Feeling relieved or lighter after discussing your issues
  • Feeling empowered to make positive changes in your life
  • Scheduling follow-up appointments and feeling committed to continuing therapy

These signs indicate that the therapeutic relationship is off to a positive start and that you're on the right track toward achieving your therapy goals. But don’t worry if you don’t experience all of these feelings right after your first session—building rapport with your therapist can take some time, and the initial session may not totally scratch the surface. Also, finding the right therapist can take time, so if you continue to feel unsatisfied with your sessions, you can always seek help from a different mental health professional.

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 are a few steps you can take to prepare:

Stay mindful of your mental health 

Take notes of your mental health in between sessions so that you can honestly reflect on what’s been going on since you last met with your therapist. 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. 

Continue to ask questions

By continuing to ask questions during therapy sessions, you can better understand yourself, clarify uncertainties, and stay engaged in your healing journey. Asking questions empowers you, prompts meaningful discussions, and helps your therapist tailor their approach to your needs.

Practice self-care 

Practice self-care activities like meditation, deep breathing, nature walks, journaling, yoga, or hobbies to stay grounded and balanced between therapy sessions. These activities nurture your well-being, reduce stress, and provide clarity to address challenges in therapy.

What different types of therapy are there? 

There are many different kinds of therapy available to support mental health. Common types include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which addresses harmful thought patterns, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), focusing on emotion regulation, and mindfulness-based therapies that promote holistic well-being. 

All of these treatment modalities, and more, can be practiced in individual counseling sessions for personal issues, family therapy or couples therapy to enhance communication within a family or between partners, and group therapy for peer support. 

Getting started with therapy with Charlie Health

If you or a loved one are looking for more than once-weekly mental health support, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with complex mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and more. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based therapies into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic treatment, managing your mental health is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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