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You’ve just made an appointment for your first ever therapy session. First of all, congrats! Going to therapy is a big step, whether you’re doing it to treat depression, an anxiety disorder or to get a deeper understanding of yourself.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is all about having meaningful conversations that help you learn about the problems that affect you and how you can deal with them.
Whether you meet a local therapist or take part in online therapy, the time you spend with your therapist is an opportunity to talk about anything that’s bothering you, as well as an opportunity to make meaningful progress towards your goals for therapy.
While therapy is a positive process, it’s very common to feel nervous and unsure of what to talk about before your first session.
This is totally normal -- after all, you’re going to spend 40 to 60 minutes talking to someone you haven’t ever met before.
The good news is that most therapists are aware of this, and they’ll typically go out of their way to make sure that your first therapy session involves learning more about you and helping you become comfortable in a therapeutic environment.
To make the process easier, we’ve shared 10 questions that you’ll likely be asked or want to ask to your therapist during your first session.
By going over these ahead of time, you’ll be able to walk into your first session feeling prepared, comfortable and ready to make progress.
If you’ve never met with your therapist before, your first therapy session will usually be an intake session.
During this session, you’ll cover topics such as your therapist’s professional information, policies and fees, as well as key topics such as client confidentiality, your rights as a patient and how the process of therapy will typically work.
As part of this process, you’ll need to sign an informed consent document. This is a type of legal document that confirms that you consent to take part in therapy.
Your therapist will work with you to make sure that everything is clear before you begin your first session.
Depending on your symptoms and personal needs, you may need to complete a range of other documents to provide your therapist with more information.
As part of this process, you may need to provide information about your physical health, use of certain types of medication and family history of certain conditions.
This information helps your therapist learn more about your specific needs, as well as the most effective treatment options for you.
Don’t worry -- not all sessions will be like this. Once your therapist has this information, you’ll be able to spend more of your time focusing on talking, learning and making meaningful progress.
Your first therapy session is all about laying the groundwork for the future. You’re free to talk to your therapist about anything, whether it’s a specific issue that’s bothering you or an aspect of therapy you’d like to learn more about.
When it comes to therapy, there’s no such thing as a “bad” question. During your first session, you should feel free to ask any questions you’d like answered.
Below, we’ve listed 10 common questions that you may be asked, or may want to ask to your therapist, during your intake session.
Perhaps the most important question in therapy, asking this helps your therapist learn more about what’s going on in your life that’s affecting your thoughts, feelings or general mental health.
There are countless reasons to seek therapy. Some people might take part in therapy to treat a specific mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety.
Others are prompted to try therapy after a specific event, such as a breakup, a stressful experience or the loss of a loved one.
There’s no “right” or “wrong” answer to this question. Instead, it’s designed to help you open up to your therapist about the reasons you’re seeking therapy.
It’s important to answer this question openly, honestly and in as much detail as possible. Based on your answer, your therapist may choose to move your conversation in a specific direction to learn more about what’s troubling you and how you can solve it.
Just like people often take part in therapy for very different reasons, people often have different expectations about what they’ll get from therapy.
Your therapist will work with you to help you learn more about yourself, work towards your goals and make informed, effective decisions. In order to do this, it’s important that they’re fully aware of what you expect from them.
As always, try to answer this question as openly and honestly as possible. Remember that your therapist is there to listen to you.
The more information you can give, the more the therapist can do to help you have a positive, constructive experience.
Your therapist might ask if you’ve ever seen a therapist, counselor, psychiatrist or other mental health professional before.
If you have, make sure to let them know. Your therapist might ask about your past experiences with therapy, as well as the specific aspects of therapy that you found helpful and rewarding or difficult and uncomfortable.
If you’ve never seen a therapist before, your therapist may spend more time helping you to feel comfortable and familiar with the therapeutic process.
Problems can vary in scale, and what seems like one large problem may be a variety of smaller issues that are affecting your thoughts, feelings and behavior.
Your therapist might ask you to define the major problems you’re facing. Identifying the specific problems that are troubling you can help you to prepare a treatment plan that includes methods for coping, learning and making progress.
Everyone has a coping strategy for dealing with problems. Whether you’re troubled by anxiety, stress, depression or a certain situation or individual, you likely have behaviors that you turn to in order to cope.
Some coping habits are productive and healthy, such as making notes in a diary, meditating or setting goals for yourself to work towards.
Others are unhealthy, such as using alcohol, drugs or other destructive behaviors to cope with stressful situations and other challenges.
Your therapist might ask you this question to learn more about how you cope with difficulties in your life, as well as changes that you may be able to make to stop your coping strategies from interfering with your progress.
From creativity to the ability to focus intensely on a certain goal until it’s accomplished, everyone has unique strengths.
Your therapist may ask you to describe your strengths. Don’t worry, this isn’t the type of question you’d get in a job interview -- instead, it’s designed to help your therapist learn about the unique and specific skills that you have to deal with problems and challenges.
During therapy, your therapist may help you to learn about how you can use these strengths to cope with things like stress, anxiety or depression and make progress in your life.
Similarly, your therapist may ask you to talk about your weaknesses. By being honest and open in your answer, you’ll be able to identify points that you can work on together to help you better deal with tough situations and take control over your thoughts and behaviors.
Many people with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions have suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harm.
These issues occur in people with moderate or severe forms of mental illness, such as severe depression or bipolar disorder.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition that’s associated with self-harm, your therapy may ask you this question.
While a question like this may seem alarming, it’s important to keep in mind that your therapist wants to make sure you’re safe. If you have self-harmed, or if you have suicidal thoughts, your therapist needs to make sure that you receive the necessary care and attention.
As always, it’s important to be totally honest with your therapist. Don’t feel afraid or ashamed to let them know if you have self-harmed or considered hurting yourself.
Your therapist is there to help you, and they’ll make sure to take all necessary steps to keep you safe, comfortable and free from harm.
Therapy is all about learning and making progress, whether this means gaining more control of your moods and emotions, changing your thinking, adapting your behavior or making progress in specific areas of your life, such as your relationships or overall quality of life.
In order to identify your goals and monitor your progress, your therapist may ask you about the specific things you want to accomplish.
Not everyone has a clear idea of what they want to accomplish from therapy, so don’t feel bad or disappointed if you can’t provide a specific goal.
Instead, focus on communicating with your therapist about what you hope to do together. The more information you can give, the better your therapist will be able to prepare a personalized treatment plan to help you move forward through your therapeutic journey.
If someone else plays a significant role in your life, it’s important to let your therapist know about how they treat you and how you feel around them.
Your therapist may ask you certain questions about your relationships with other people, or about your family dynamics, your interactions with friends, etc.
These can offer insight into how you connect with others, identify the people that are there for you and show you how strong your support network is.
While talking about your relationships with other people may feel unusual, remember that your therapist isn’t there to judge you.
This is a question that you might want to ask your therapist, especially towards the end of your intake session.
Not all therapy sessions are about making measurable progress towards a goal. Sometimes, a simple conversation about what’s going on in your life and how you’re feeling can have a major impact on your wellbeing, even if it doesn’t feel actionable.
However, if you’re going into therapy with specific goals, you may want to discuss how you can work towards them with your therapist.
Your therapist may help you to set concrete, objective markers that you can use to monitor your progress and stay focused on making meaningful changes in your life.
Starting therapy can seem daunting, especially if you’ve never talked to a therapist, psychologist or other mental health professional before.
When you’re beginning therapy, remember that you’re always in control of the process. It’s up to you to decide what to talk about.
If your therapist asks a question that you don’t feel comfortable answering, you can freely tell them that you’d prefer to talk about something else.
Over time, you may start to feel more comfortable with the therapeutic process, allowing you to open up to your therapist and talk about the specific issues that are troubling you, and helping you move forward healthily in your daily life.
We also want to remind you that these are just a few sample questions that your therapist might ask you.
Some of them are more direct, and some of them are open-ended questions designed to help you explore how you’re feeling and open up about your experiences.
And these are just a few of many — and that’s okay. There may be follow-up questions, there may be others we haven’t touched on — that’s all part of the counseling process.
To get started with therapy, you can reach out to a mental health provider in your area or talk to your primary care provider about getting a mental health referral.
Alternatively, you can connect with licensed mental health providers online using our online psychiatry services, individual therapy, and online anonymous therapy.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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