Meeting a therapist for the first time requires courage. You request help for symptoms or challenges. You show up and know the therapist will ask questions that might be hard or painful to answer. And you don’t yet know your new therapist, so how can you know if they are trustworthy or if their questions are good ones?
Or maybe you don’t know anything about what beginning therapy is like.
When I started therapy in 1990 (yes, it’s a long time ago!) I was certain I was irrevocably messed up. I was worried my new therapist would label me or pronounce my pathology as severe. Back then, I didn’t know anyone who had actually gone to therapy. I was awash in an unspoken taboo that therapy was for the weak or very ill.
But I was suffering from serious anxiety that affected my functioning AND I was studying to be a therapist. Feeling desperate, I called a favorite professor and asked her to recommend several local therapists. And then I picked up the phone and scheduled an appointment.
My therapist was kind and listened non-judgmentally. He helped me feel safe. He was not in a hurry to dig out answers to questions about my entire life history. Rather, he asked good questions and reframed what I believed was negatively going on inside me. By reframing, I mean he understood my symptoms as messengers and taught me to pay attention to them, respectfully and with curiosity.
Instead of trying to get rid of symptoms, I started to understand the marvelous way our mind, body, and emotions work to communicate important information. Therapy changed me. I still say therapy saved my life. I was not suicidal but I was caught in destructive beliefs that would have spun me deeper into despair had I not reached out.
Starting Therapy With Me
Before I meet with a new client for the first session, I schedule a ½ hour no-charge video or phone consultation. I want at least a thumbnail sketch of what’s going on and what you are looking for by contacting a therapist. Talking briefly before we schedule the first appointment helps us both know if we are a good fit for each other. I will also answer questions you may have about therapy or my theoretical framework.
What’s It Like?
A typical and good question potential clients ask is “What happens when we first meet?”
Every therapist will answer that differently because we are as diverse as our clients. But here’s my answer:
When I meet with a client for the first time, my sole goal is that you’ll leave the session with a sense of safety and hope.
That’s it. Everything else is, as they say, “gravy,” Because without feeling safe and hopeful, therapy can’t progress. We’ll talk about whatever you need to in order to feel safe, understood, and hopeful that change can happen.
Therapists are trained to gather information early and health insurance companies and agencies often expect therapists to document history in early sessions. Learning about your current situation, your family of origin, relationships, coping skills, strengths, and pivotal life events are all important, in time.
As a self-pay therapist without insurance or agency-inflicted rules and regulations, I have more freedom and I take it. First I want to really listen to you, create safety in how I interact with you, and start to understand what’s going on, what you need, and what you hope might change. We’ll get to everything else in time.
Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSWR February 2022