What can I expect on a first visit to a mental health counselor?
July 2, 2012
You’re on your way to your first appointment with a mental health counselor. You may be filled with a stomach-turning mix of excitement and straight up anxiety at the prospect of sharing your struggles with a complete stranger. You may be skeptical about their role and how they will actually offer you help. So, what can you really expect when you arrive?
Let’s start by talking about what you shouldn’t expect. First of all, you shouldn’t expect to find yourself lying on a long couch with your eyes closed, sharing your psychedelic dreams and repressed memories to a bearded old man scribbling on his notebook. Neither should you expect to spend an entire hour answering, “How does that make you feel?” or interpreting your unconscious through ink blot art.
A first appointment should be simply a time to get comfortable and acquainted with your counselor, as well as with the process of counseling. I tend to see my first appointments as a “get to know you” session in which the client tells me as much (or as little) as they want to share about themselves and the situation that brought them into counseling. But it’s not only a time for me to get to know my client, it’s also a time for them to get to know me.
My clients would tell you that our first appointments tend to be laid back and conversational. I want them to see me as a professional prepared to help them heal, but I also want them to see me as a human with a heart and a passion for their well-being. I want to connect with them and them with me, because this connection is where the true healing can begin to take root.
Counseling is based on a trusting relationship, and in order for you to succeed in therapy it’s important to find a counselor who you feel is right for you in both their personality and counseling style. You should feel free to use your first appointment to get to know your counselor as they get to know you-ask about the process of counseling, their therapy style, the length of treatment, and anything else you may be interested in knowing. I personally suggest that a potential client research different therapy styles and find a counselor who builds upon the kind of treatment that you are comfortable with. The process of counseling will give back to you what you are willing to put into it, and going into your appointment ready to invest will be the best way to make your experience both comfortable and productive.
Besides getting personal, you can also expect some logistics. Be prepared to sign some paperwork and discuss details such as confidentiality, payment options, and basic policies and procedures that the counselor may have.
One last bit of advice: be completely honest. I always remind my clients that the therapeutic relationship is one of the most important components to productive counseling. I encourage them to be honest with me throughout the process and to make sure that they feel comfortable and connected with me throughout our sessions. If for some reason you aren’t connecting with your therapist after a few sessions, let them know! A good counselor will want to know how you are doing and will be open to suggestions and improvements in order to connect with you in the best possible way. And if for some reason they can’t, they will be sure to help you find someone who will.
Don’t let the unknowns of therapy keep you from finding healing in your life. Take charge of your healing by making that first appointment and finding out for yourself.