Going to see a Psychologist for the first time can feel really scary and nerve-wracking when you don’t know what to expect. Some of the things that my first-time clients say include things like: “I’m afraid I will be judged”, “I’m afraid you’ll think I’m broken or faulty or worse, maybe even unstable or crazy”, “I’m afraid of revisiting painful memories” and “I’m worried I will be expected to change when I’m not ready”. Let’s talk about what to expect in the the first session of therapy so that you can reduce the fear of the unknown!
First things first: It’s normal and natural to feel nervous, uncertain or unsure in any new situation, especially the first time you are meeting a Psychologist – who is essentially a stranger and you are there to “spill your guts to them”. It definitely takes a lot of courage to do that, and if you’ve reached out and booked an appointment already, you’ve done the hardest part! That is evidence that you are braver than you think.
Secondly, at your first session, your Psychologist will go through the process of what you can expect from your session and from treatment. They will most likely reassure you that it’s totally normal to feel nervous (most people do and it’s okay), and that this is a safe space for you to be yourself without judgement. Taking care of your mental health is an essential part of your wellbeing and it doesn’t mean you’re “faulty”. It most likely means you are here because you feel stressed, overwhelmed, tired, foggy, vulnerable, low or stuck, but definitely not faulty!
Your Psychologist won’t expect you to revisit painful or traumatic memories in your first session and you will only do so in subsequent sessions if you both agree that this is a good step forwards. The first session is mostly an information-taking session, where your Psychologist will be asking you questions and collecting information about your history. They are likely to ask you about your symptoms, health problems, family and relationships, your work or study and anything that you think is important for them to know about you – this may include traumatic events from the past or more recent present, but you don’t have to “go into it”. You can let your Psychologist know “there is stuff there” and your Psychologist will take that into account when they are putting together your treatment plan. Of course, if you feel like you really want to tell you Psychologist about something that has happened to get it off your chest upfront, then that is fine too, it’s up to you.
It’s important to keep in mind that you will not be pressured or expected to change if you are not ready, and certainly not in your first session! Your Psychologist may make suggestions in that first session that you may find helpful, however readiness to change can take time and unless you are in a situation that puts you at risk or in danger, your Psychologist will work with you over time to prepare you for any changes that you would like to make.
Lastly, please remember that Psychologists are people too! So just like in any other life situation, sometimes people “gel” or “click” and sometimes they don’t. And that’s okay, it’s totally a human thing. You will definitely have a sense of this at your first appointment, and if this comes up for you and you feel like you don’t click with your Psychologist, I encourage you to let them know. They won’t take it personally. Psychologists understand this and that for therapy to be effective, you need to feel comfortable so you can be yourself and get the most out of your sessions. Your Psychologist will talk you through it and together you can come with options for the most suitable plan for you.
Hopefully this puts your mind at ease a little, and you feel less nervous about going to your first appointment with a Psychologist.
Yours in mental health, Fotini.