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10 Ways to Prepare for Your First Counseling Session

10 Counseling Session Tips

first counseling session tips

One of the many mental health services available today is counseling. Counseling sessions are a great way to tap into your mental health with the help of professional counselors who are highly skilled in their field. Counseling can help individuals with various mental health issues such as mental illness, substance abuse, depression, and more. Counseling empowers diverse individuals to learn healthier coping skills, improve their self esteem, uncover their past traumas, and so much more. Ultimately, the right counselor can help any individual accomplish mental health goals and live a healthier, more well-rounded life.

However, going to your first counseling session can be intimidating, especially if you have never been to counseling before. While there are many different types of counseling, they all require your counselor creating a safe place for you to be vulnerable about your thoughts and emotions. Starting over with a new therapist can make you nervous when you aren’t sure what to expect. If you are planning to go to counseling for the first time, the following five tips will help you prepare yourself for your first session. We hope you find this helpful so that you can achieve your personal goals.

1. Research Therapies and Therapists

There is a long list of counseling specialties and most therapists specialize. Not only do they have topical specializations, like marriage and family therapy or addictions counseling, they may also specialize in certain types of therapy techniques, like EMDR or art therapy. Some therapies, like EMDR, work better for certain types of issues, like trauma. Psychology Today provides would-be therapy clients with information about a number of different types of therapies. Those who wish to research therapies can consider each carefully before making a decision about which type to go with. Once the prospective therapy client knows this information, he or she can then look up mental health therapists in the local area who offer the therapy modality that appeals to the client.

2. Consider Past Therapy Experiences

Therapy and other mental health services are more prevalent than they used to be. As such, many people have had some experience with counseling. That being the case, many clients may not be new to therapy per se but rather, new to the therapist they’re about to see.

This puts them in a unique position. They can think back on their prior experiences in therapy and ask themselves what worked in therapy before and what could be improved upon this time around. This pre-counseling soul searching puts them in a position to speak to their new therapists about their needs and their fears. The new therapist, in turn, can use this information when he or she is formulating a plan for therapy for the new client. This is a great way to not only build a bond and professional relationship but also use past evidence to move forward.

3. A Phone Visit

Would-be therapy clients should file this pointer close to the top of their first counseling session tips list. recommends that therapy clients ask for a phone consultation before agreeing to meet a therapist in person. Many counselors offer a free phone consultation prior to signing with a client. This conversation allows the client to ask questions and for the therapist to determine if his or her area of expertise will help the client.

4. Paperwork

This is extremely important and will help you alleviate a lot of stress. Fill out your intake paperwork before you get to the appointment. Many counselors’ offices will allow you to download and print the forms from their website so you can complete them at home at your leisure. Other offices will mail you a copy of the paperwork so you can fill everything out before your appointment. This eliminates the need to arrive 30 minutes in advance and fill out paperwork in the waiting room. You should also call your health insurance (if you have insurance) to ensure your visit is covered. Don’t forget to take a copy of your health insurance card, your identification, and a check or cash for your co-pay (if any) with you to your first appointment. For free counseling sessions, such as counseling services at your local community center, you will not have to worry about health insurance.

5. Prepare Yourself

Before you go to your first appointment, take the time to determine what you want your counselor to help you with. It can help to write down the issues, whether they are mental health related or not, that you want to discuss, as well as what resolution you are striving to achieve. If you have seen other counselors in the past, you should make a note of this, as well as the results you achieved with them (if any). These notes can help your new counselor to determine the best methods to assist you in resolving any issues you have. If you are seeking counseling to treat mental health disorders, you must be prepared to learn and do the work. And above all – be completely honest with your new counselor. Counseling services only work with vulnerability.

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6. Markers of Progress

People who have never been to therapy often have no real understanding of whether or not therapy is helping them. For first-timers especially, it’s important to visit with the counselor to find out what progress in therapy might look like. A trained mental health professional counselor should have the ability to give the client some ideas about what the signs of progress look like.

7. Team Efforts

Many people have misconceptions about what therapy actually is. They often expect to come and chat with the therapist and eventually to feel better, feeling none the worse for the wear. Many would-be therapy clients do not understand that therapy is a team effort and that therapy without action often produces dismal results. Clients must be committed to doing the work of therapy and being an important member of the therapy team if they want their therapy to cause meaningful change in their lives.

8. Don’t Stress

Do your best to relax and stop worrying about your appointment. It may help to do some breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga. And remember – once you make it through the first appointment, the second and subsequent appointments will be easy. And remember that you aren’t locked into continuing treatment with this counselor; if you feel like your new counselor is not a good fit, you can move on to another.

9. Keep an Open Mind

Many patients go to their first counseling session with a solid plan in their mind and are not open to suggestions from their counselor, or to trying different treatment options or exercises. This can derail treatment and result in a waste of time and effort for everyone. Keep an open mind and let your new counselor make suggestions for a path forward. Your counselor may have ideas for things that you haven’t thought of, and these methods may be the ones that help you achieve success.

10. Take a Supportive Friend or Family Member Along

Some patients find it beneficial to take a friend or family member with them to their first appointment. Even if you don’t feel comfortable having them sit through the session with you and your counselor, your support person can go with you to the appointment and hang out in the waiting room while you are in your session. They will be there to cheer you on and help you decompress after your session. And having someone by your side through the whole process of getting to therapy, attending a session and getting home can alleviate a lot of stress for many patients.

Counseling can be very beneficial once you find the right counselor who will help you map out a path toward success. Following these 10 first counseling session tips will make your first session go more smoothly. These counseling tips will also help you navigate your way through therapy when the situation gets uncomfortable or when you feel like you’re not progressing as quickly as you’d like. For more advice and information on where to find counseling services, be sure to check out the American Counseling Association website.

Related Resources:

What are the Different Types of Counselors?

What is a Transformational Counselor?

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