Helpful tips to prepare for a counseling session

Therapy is very rewarding, however, anticipating the first session can be nerve-wracking - especially if you have never been to therapy before. Once you have found a therapist to meet with, part of the work is already done - you have started your journey to self-improvement.

As your first session approaches, here are some ways to prepare mentally and physically:

Set Goals
Before the first session, you should outline clear goals for what you expect from therapy. Everyone has personal reasons, and there are no right or wrong reasons for therapy. Try to understand what brought you to therapy and how you want to leave it.

If you have ever been to therapy, consider what you liked about previous therapists and what worked best for you in therapy. Also, consider what didn't work and what you didn't like about your previous therapist.

It is a good idea to determine exactly what burdens you the most and what you hope for from the therapy. If, for example, you have felt unmotivated and unhappy recently, think for a while why you feel this way.

However, if you are not sure why you have chosen therapy or what you hope to achieve, you should not be stressed. It is good to have an idea of what you are hoping to achieve, but it is normal to be unsure or need help in solving these problems. It is part of the therapy offer.

Have Realistic Expectations
Therapy is great and can be extremely useful, but it is not a panacea. If you go into your first consultation session expecting to be completely cured, you will be disappointed. Make sure your goals are manageable and that you understand that therapy is a process that requires a lot of work.

It can take a few weeks or even a few years to reach your goal, and the first therapist you meet may not be the one you end your journey with.

Therapists are only human, so you can’t expect them to have all the answers to your questions. Therapy requires work from you and your therapist - and it will not be as simple and compressed as the therapy sessions you see in TV shows or movies.

Give Yourself Credit
It is not easy to seek help for your mental health. For a long time, the stigma of mental illness prevented people from seeking help, but today we know much more about how mental health affects other aspects of our lives. If you have come this far, it is worth celebrating.

Mental health is as important as physical health, so seeing a therapist to maintain good mental health should not be much different from exercising to maintain good physical health.

Plan your first session at a convenient time
If you have never been to therapy, you do not know how you will feel after a session.

Try and plan your first appointment on a day off or at a time when you have little else to worry about. Avoid making concrete plans immediately after the therapy just in case you feel overwhelmed or want to be alone. You may feel enthusiastic and refreshed after the session and have a motivation that you did not have before, or you may find yourself deep in your own thoughts and not be ready to socialize.

At some point you become aware of how you feel after the therapy and can plan sessions accordingly.

Reserve time before the session
It is a good idea to make some time for yourself before the session starts, especially if you are nervous before the session. Turn off your phone and put your work aside to just sit down with your feelings.

Opening up emotionally can cause stress and make the heartbeat faster, forcing the body to release a hormone called cortisol that can cause a fight or flight reaction. It is completely natural but can be counterproductive, so invest time focusing on yourself, breathing and staying hydrated.

This will also give you plenty of time to find your therapist's practice. If you are already nervous, you do not need the added stress of late running.

Dress for Comfort
Therapy is not a job interview or a black-tie event, so there is no pressure to dress - unless that is what makes you comfortable. Dressing up in comfortable clothes - whatever that may be for you - will help you feel more relaxed overall.

Just be yourself and wear what is comfortable for you - whether sweatpants or a cocktail dress, physical comfort complements emotional comfort and allows you to be more relaxed and vulnerable during the session.

Don't be afraid to ask questions
During the session, you can talk as much or as little as you like - it is all about your comfort. But it is good to understand that there are no wrong questions in therapy, and even if the therapist doesn't have all the answers, they can help you find the answers.

There is no shame in asking questions about billing, scheduling, or insurance. Make a list of these questions in advance and have them discussed with your therapist at the beginning of your session or just before the end.

Throughout the session, you can ask questions about your therapist's work experience, their strategies and anything else you are curious about.

Be open and honest
As scary as it may be to be open and honest with your thoughts and feelings if you want to make the most of therapy, this does not mean that you have to discharge all your innermost feelings in the first session, but rather allow yourself to be a little freer when talking.

In order to achieve the goals you set yourself, try and be as open and honest as you can be, even if it is embarrassing and uncomfortable. Remember that the therapist is not there to judge you, but to help you, and everything you say is completely confidential.

Go easy on yourself
It is perfectly normal to be nervous or anxious before the first therapy session. Try not to worry about what you say or how you should behave, just be yourself and just congratulate yourself on taking the step to improve your mental health. You may feel scared, overwhelmed or even excited.

Berating yourself because you are afraid or fearful can be counterproductive to your long-term goals. So, remember that nerves are normal - you may even want to start your therapy session by talking about how anxious or nervous you are, and allow the therapist to help you become centered again.

Reflect on your session
If you get to know yourself better during and after the therapy, you will find out what works best for you. However, after the first session, it is a good idea to take some time to process the session. Do not turn on your phone right away. Instead, take a short walk or get a coffee and sit in a café for reflection. Contemplation does not have to be immediate either. You can reserve some time for yourself on that day, in the evening or in the following days.

Consider everything that was said in the session and how it made you feel. Consider how you feel now that the session is over and what you thought about the therapist. Some people like to write after a therapy session, but anything that helps you to analyze and understand your emotions is the best. Try to draw, write a diary, walk or exercise - whatever it may be, allow yourself to do some reflection after the therapy.

The goal is to really think about your session - what has been discussed, how it will help you achieve the goals that you have set for yourself - and what you hope to work on. It can also bring to light new goals that you did not consider before.

Go with your gut
When you think about your therapy session, do not ignore your gut feelings. If something felt wrong or was not quite right, investigate it instead of ignoring it. Think about how the therapist made you feel or if the session was too uncomfortable.

Tune in to these gut feelings because they may tell you more about how you felt during therapy, and to get the most out of your sessions, you need to feel safe and comfortable. Although therapy can sometimes be uncomfortable, it should not make you feel worse about yourself.

At the same time, it is important to be sensible and not to jump to conclusions. The first session is exactly that - the first session. It usually takes a few sessions before you can make an exact decision about the type of therapy, the therapist and whether it will work for you.

Remember that change takes time
Do not worry if you feel that you have not made much progress during your first session. Therapy is an ongoing process, and one session will not solve all your problems. Just as you do not achieve a six-pack of abs after a day of sit-ups, your problems will not be solved after a therapy session.

The duration of the therapy varies from person to person, and it can take years for some people to see results. It is important to stick to it and continue to work with your therapist to achieve your goals, but it is equally important to celebrate the small steps that all lead to the final goal. Although you may not feel that you have made great progress in your first session, you should know that you are one step closer to your goal.

Remember it's okay not to like the therapist
It is best to have a few sessions with a therapist before deciding whether to continue seeing them - but if it does not work out, there's nothing wrong with that.

Therapy is a deeply personal experience, and you deserve someone you can feel comfortable with and get along well with. It is a two-way street, so both you and your therapist must be compatible for the therapy to be successful. It is important to choose the right therapist for you, and if you know that things are not working with this therapist, there is nothing wrong with telling them that you want to change therapists.

If you are worried about offending the therapist, do not be. They are professionals, and they will understand that you are doing what is best for you and your health, and they will support your decision - they can even help you find a new therapist that suits you better.