Demystifying Therapy: Preparing for Your First Session


Daniela Tempesta, LCSW

Preparing for your first session with a new therapist can be a bit nerve wracking. Sharing your pain and vulnerabilities with a perfect stranger can feel foreign and even daunting. So if you notice yourself feeling nervous, don’t worry, it is totally normal. But don’t let those feelings get in the way of getting the most out of it.

Here are some tips on how to prepare for your first session with a new therapist.

You Have Nothing To Lose – Be Honest

While compassionate and caring, the therapist is not your “friend”. The relationship with your therapist is different than any other relationship you will ever have. You are guaranteed complete confidentiality and an environment free of any judgment or criticism. It is structured this way purposefully to allow for the total emotional transparency that might otherwise feel unsafe.

So while it is normal to feel inclined to censor information when we talk to someone new, this contradicts the whole purpose of the therapeutic relationship. Your therapist is not there to judge you, he or she is there to support you in your pain (and even help you diminish the shame you feel). You are not going to get the most out of the process if you are not being totally transparent. So even though it might feel a bit like swimming upstream, push yourself to be brutally honest with your therapist so you two can address the real issues head on. If you don’t, you may be wasting your own time and money.

Come With A Direction In Mind, But Be Open To A Detour

Think about what you most want to get out of the process before you arrive for your first session. Your therapist will work with you to determine what your goals in working together will be, but don’t rely on the professional to do all the work for you – this therapy is for you and about you. Remember that you are the expert on your own experience and that expertise is essential in ensuring that you are on the right track.

At the same time, be open to seeing new things and considering other directions. The beauty about therapy is that the objective lens of the therapist, paired psychological expertise, will allow him or her to see some things that are not visible to you and together you can work to co-construct a plan that best meets your needs.

Focus On How The Relationship Feels

The most important factor in the effectiveness of therapy is the client’s willingness to change. The second is the relationship with the therapist. So needless to say, ensuring you get the most out of the experience has a lot to do with the relationship you build with this person. Though you may feel uncomfortable at times during the first session (which is normal), overall you should feel a sense of safety and that this is someone you can imagine building a strong rapport with. Hopefully, the therapist will check in to make sure it feels like a good fit for you. If in the end you leave feeling judged or unsafe, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and find another clinician to work with.

So now hopefully you are feeling a little more ready to embark on that first appointment. Keep an open mind, take a deep breath, and take some risks. Good luck!

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