Have you ever had a therapy appointment? If not, it is something I recommend. Not just for those with a diagnosed mental health condition, but for anyone who finds themselves stressed or overwhelmed.
Beginning your therapy journey can seem daunting, but really, with a little research, it is pretty straightforward.
My journey with therapy
I have seen therapists off and on since I was 13 years old. (I loved my first therapist and still think about her often. I truthfully do not remember why I stopped seeing her.)
There have been some that weren’t so great. Some that were more interested in talking to my mother whom they knew through work, and some I just never built a rapport with.
Last month, I resumed therapy after almost 3 years off, and I can feel it already helping. We have started to dive into a lot of deep-seated issues that I have. Knowing what to expect at the first therapy appointment was really helpful.
Questions to ask before scheduling a therapy appointment
How soon can you be seen?
Often, when you’re seeking a therapist, it is because you really are not doing well. For instance, in my case, I resumed therapy because I noticed my moods were affecting my marriage and my parenting.
So, you want to ask the receptionist or whoever does the scheduling, can I be seen as soon as possible? If there is a wait of several weeks, this therapist may not be the right fit.
For some people, a longer wait for an initial appointment may not be a big deal breaker, but it is still a good question to ask.
What is their education? Or how long have they been practicing?
Again, this is one that may not matter to every single client, but it is one that I think is important. There is a possibility that you could build a rapport with someone fresh out of school, but it is still good to know what type of experience they have.
There are different types of therapists such as LCSWs (Licensed clinical social workers) and psychologists, and they all have different types of training. This could affect the varieties of coping strategies and advice they are able to offer.
What insurance do they accept?
This is a very important question. To be honest, therapy can be expensive depending on your insurance. That is why I stopped for a few years, until we had better coverage.
Make sure they accept your insurance plan before you schedule an appointment to avoid headaches later down the road. And to avoid paying more than you are comfortable with.
What is their billing protocol?
Laugh if you want, but I’m the kind of person who doesn’t bring a wallet if I don’t expect to spend money. That’s why I think this is a really good question so you avoid embarrassment.
Are you going to be expected to pay a copay at the time of appointment? Or will they bill you later? With my insurance, I get a bill a few weeks after the fact. I forgot to ask when I scheduled my first appointment so I made a point to bring my wallet just in case.
What is their cancellation policy?
While this is not the case for everyone, many people who see therapists are very mentally ill. This can cause extenuating circumstances where they need to cancel appointments.
For example, their depression could make them feel very physically ill, or they could find themselves unexpectedly hospitalized. Or, plain and simple, life happens, and their kid is sick.
Make sure to be aware how many days in advance you need to cancel or reschedule, and if you cannot meet that criteria, what fee you can expect to be charged.
What do you need to bring?
Many times you do not need to bring anything, but some therapists might want to see a list of symptoms or a family history, or something like that.
I think it is smart to go into your appointment as prepared as possible. This can also leave you with less anxiety leading up to the appointment!
What are their areas of specialty?
I think this is one of the most important questions you can ask! Many social workers and psychologist have areas of specialty. For instance, some devote most of their practice to families or couples. Some might have more experience with LGBT or other identity issues.
Before you schedule your appointment, make sure to think about what your specific concerns are and see if this therapist’s experience makes them a good fit.
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What to expect at your first therapy appointment
Bring a list of symptoms
They might ask you to bring a list of symptoms or other concerns. Even if they do not ask, I still think it is a good idea. It can be hard to remember everything that has been bothering you, so writing it all down can help.
Whether you use a pen and paper, or type it out on your phone, it will help you feel better going in with a “game plan” of things to discuss.
List of current medications
Most therapists do not have anything to do with your medications. However, they might be aware of certain side effects, and that could influence the things they want to discuss with you.
It is not likely that you will be asked to bring this, but you never know. It could be useful!
Bring your ID/insurance card
As with any doctor’s appointment, they will probably want to get your information on file at the first appointment. I recommend bringing these things every time. You never know when it could come up that they need to re-examine your insurance card. Better safe than sorry!
Discussion of family history
The first therapy appointment is usually just a “getting to know you” session. For that reason, the therapist or LCSW might ask a lot of questions about your family history with mental illness.
If you are unsure about a lot of these details, it would probably be helpful to figure it out ahead of time, and bring it with you written down. That way you can be sure not to forget any important information.
Ask what you can expect at each appointment
I especially recommend this if you are feeling anxious about this new journey. For the most part, I am the sort of person who hates surprises. I like to know exactly what to expect going into something.
Bring any questions you have as far as what you can expect at the appointments. How long will each session last? What you will discuss at the next appointment? No question is a bad question!
Come up with a treatment plan
Finally, it might give you some peace of mind to come up with a tentative treatment plan. At the end of your initial appointment, the therapist will likely have some small idea of the major issues you face.
With that in mind, it’s possible they will be able to come up with some kind of game plan. How often will you need to come in? About how long can you expect to remain in therapy?
Therapy is such a “gray area” situation but having some idea of how you might proceed going forward could be comforting.
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The idea of going to therapy can be scary, whether it’s your first time, or you are going back after a hiatus. I can definitely understand not knowing what to expect at your first therapy appointment. I can understand the anxiety. Just remember, asking certain questions can help you feel more comfortable. More importantly, you are far from being alone!