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How to Prepare for Your First Therapy Appointment

From scheduling tips to decisions about attire, we'll help you get the most from therapy.

Last Updated: Oct 22, 2021

A person sitting in a soft chair in a brightly-lit room speaking animatedly to a therapist sitting in a chair across from them.

Through therapy, you can seek professional help for some of the challenges you face. If you’re experiencing trauma, fighting substance use disorder, facing mental health issues, or simply looking for motivation to change, therapy offers a variety of proven benefits.

Therapy can help you learn to speak your mind, process difficult emotions, and implement evidence-based coping strategies that help you navigate the root of your issues.

Some enjoy the personal aspect of in-person counseling. In certain cases, you might prefer the convenience of virtual counseling. Whether you’re considering in-person or online therapy through a leading platform like BetterHelp, check out the following tips to help make the most of your first appointment.

Ask Questions

Scheduling your first therapy appointment can be difficult, but it’s an important step in your recovery, and it’s normal to have questions. Consider asking some, or all, of the following questions before your first appointment starts:

  • How long have you been practicing therapy?
  • How many clients do you have with similar challenges to my own?
  • Which certifications do you hold? How often do you renew them?
  • What is your patient confidentiality policy?
  • How will I make progress from one session to the next?
  • How should I prepare for therapy sessions? How do you prepare for our sessions?
  • Are you licensed to prescribe medication when necessary?

Be Open and Honest

Honesty is key for any successful therapy appointment. When you’re frank with your therapist, they can accurately assess your situation and provide evidence-based recommendations.

Being completely open isn’t always easy; it often requires vulnerability. You’ll need to recount thoughts, events, and actions that might be unpleasant. Despite its difficulty, this transparency with your therapist can promote healthy thought patterns and decisions.

When preparing for your first therapy appointment, reference the following tips on practicing honesty:

  • Stay truthful to yourself.
  • Acknowledge past mistakes without allowing them to define your future.
  • Remind yourself that lying can create mistrust, injure relationships, and prolong the healing process.
  • Consider lies or half-truths you’re likely to tell during therapy and catch yourself if they slip out.
  • Practice honest responses to potential therapy questions in the mirror.

If you know you have trouble maintaining honesty, consider informing your therapist before your first session. Let them know that you struggle with personal vulnerability. Once your therapist understands that openness is difficult for you, they can protect the integrity of your conversations through honest, intentional conversation.

Clear the Rest of Your Schedule

No matter the type you choose, therapy itself can sometimes be intense. Change — even positive change — requires growth, and growth is sometimes painful. Expect that after some therapy sessions, you might need time to reflect and rest.

If you’re taking time away from work, class, or other daily tasks, you might want to schedule meetings or other obligations around your therapy appointments. However, it’s even more important that you have time before your first session to prepare.

Clear your schedule and put yourself in the right frame of mind. You might want to listen to relaxing music, eat a healthy meal, take a walk, or write a letter. Achieving the right perspective before therapy is even more important than finishing the day’s chores.

After the session concludes, be honest with yourself about the time you might need to reflect. If you need a few hours to process your conversation with a therapist — or you need to take the rest of the day to reflect on the day’s progress — it’s important to clear your schedule appropriately.

Determine What You Want to Get out of Therapy

Before you leave the house for your in-person appointment — or turn on your computer for virtual therapy — decide what you want out of the day’s session. Create a list of goals and expectations that you’d like to accomplish by the time your therapy session ends.

To encourage personal growth and recovery, you should keep therapy goals realistic and concrete. Unrealistic goals create doubt and frustration when you can’t achieve them; by contrast, realistic goals build confidence and help foster ongoing recovery.

It’s also important to keep your goals as specific as possible. Consider this goal: “Have a productive therapy session.” Goals like that are positive, but without specifics, you won’t know when you’ve accomplished them. Instead, create detailed goals with clear objectives.

For example, you might set the following goal for your next therapy appointment: “I will explain my mental health struggles to my therapist before asking them whether medication might be effective as a therapy supplement.”

Dress Comfortably

Keep clothing comfortable for your first therapy appointment. Dress in clothing that will help you feel relaxed, whether that’s a pair of jeans or a suit jacket.

You may feel restricted wearing formal clothing, particularly to a meeting that will require some level of personal vulnerability. When you choose your wardrobe for your first therapy session, dress as comfortably as you would in your own home. Your therapist has no expectations that you’ll arrive in dress attire.

Go Easy on Yourself

Signing up for your first therapy session takes courage. It means you’re accepting help in managing one or more aspects of your mental health, help that could include individual or group therapy, psychoanalysis, and medication-assisted treatment. After your first therapy appointment is on your calendar, don’t forget to go easy on yourself.

Nearly one in five adults lives with a mental illness, though many never seek the help they need. If you’ve scheduled your first therapy appointment, you’ve already accomplished the most difficult step: admitting that you need help handling the challenges you face.

Therapy can help you take more steps toward healing, improved health, and a higher quality of life. You’ve taken an admirable step in the right direction.

Make a List of Talking Points

In anticipation of your first therapy appointment, you might want to create a list of talking points. If you have questions to ask or topics you’d like to discuss with your therapist, preparing a list of discussion items can help create a productive session.

Discussion topics will vary, depending on your needs and the challenges you face. You might want to talk about past events, interpersonal relationships, or the relationship between body image and self-esteem. No matter your preferred topics of conversation, a list of talking points will keep the conversation focused once your first appointment begins.

Understand That Change Takes Time

Over time, therapy can help you address past trauma, foster positive relationships, and positively impact your physical health. However, all change takes time — even if you have a productive first therapy appointment.

Therapy won’t typically yield immediate success, but over time, you’ll often begin to notice sweeping changes in the ways you communicate and view the world. With recurring therapy appointments, positive coping strategies, and any other required treatment modalities, you can slowly return to the self-confident life you deserve.