Thursday, September 19, 2019

What to Expect During Your First Therapy Appointment

Before staying at home with my kids, when I would tell people that I was a mental health therapist (and still plan to be when my kids go to school) their eyes would get wide. Soon after they would ask, "what's that like?" It amazes me how much fear and anxiety surrounds therapy appointments, which is ironic considering that is what we are there to help with! So let's ease any fear you may have and break down that first session.

First things first, you'll make a call. You will call a therapist or therapist office and most likely will leave a voicemail. We are often seeing clients and therefore we answer calls or schedule in between sessions, or have someone at the front desk do so. During that call you will give insurance information and you will give a brief summary of why you are coming in. This doesn't have to be a long story, you can keep it as simple as "a breakup", "depression", or even "life adjustment". The assessment (your first appointment) is where we dig into the presenting issue more so no pressure in going into too much detail over the phone. The initial call is also a time where you can ask questions and explain your preferences. Want to meet with a male therapist? Now is the time to make that clear! If the agency, private practice, or center can accommodate you they will do so. Lastly you will schedule your appointment. Sometimes there is a waiting list, and sometimes there is not based on your availability. If you need help immediately please hang up and call 911. Do not wait.

So it's your first appointment. Hooray! Oftentimes you will have intake paperwork that you will print, fill out at home and bring with you or you will complete the paperwork in the waiting area. This paperwork often collects the same information as any doctor office such as demographics, insurance information, etc. It should also include a sheet on HIPAA regulations as well as a financial policy. Take the time to read these! They contain information about your privacy, late fees, and medical records.

Next you will meet with your therapist. The first session is known as an assessment and based on the practice will be about one to two hours long. Your therapist will introduce themselves to you and then gather information about your "why". That is, why you are wanting to meet with someone. Questions may include:

- Why are you coming in?
- What is it that you are struggling with?
- What would you like to work on?
- Tell me about your family.
- What about your friends?
- Are you on any medication?
- As well as some symptom specific questions based on information you give.

That is, we will get to know you. Some therapists will take notes during this time, and some will not. Many agencies require collaborative documentation now, meaning a therapist will fill out an assessment form with you on a computer. I usually took notes during the assessment, but did not in regular therapy appointments.

Okay, see you next week! That's it! After an assessment I would tell clients to think about what they wanted things to look like by the end of therapy. I would ask them this because therapy does not last forever, and it would help us create their treatment plan together. A treatment plan is simply what goals you may have and what skills we will be helping you learn and implement along the way.

Remember: you do the work, a therapist is someone who is there to walk with you on this journey. That may sound cheesy, but it's true. While a therapist may teach you coping skills and help you implement them the real work starts when you walk out our doors.

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