Making the decision to go to therapy can often be difficult. You may struggle with the perceived stigma around therapy, its cost and not knowing where to start.
However, knowing how to get help and what to expect during your first therapy visit can help make the experience less scary and put you more at ease.
Dr. Larkin Hoyt, director of outpatient programs at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital and Sharp McDonald Center and a licensed psychologist, answers some common questions on taking the first step and what comes after.
If I’m thinking about going to therapy, where do I start?
If cost is a deciding factor, many employers offer employee assistance programs that offer a set number of free counseling sessions with a licensed therapist. Alternatively, ask your health insurance company about your mental health care options and ask for an in-network provider list.
In addition, if a licensed therapist is not in-network, many offer sliding scale prices where clients can arrange to be seen at a lower rate.
OK, I found a therapist who is the best fit for me. What can I expect at my first session?
Be prepared for questions. The therapist will typically ask why you sought therapy, and what type of goals you would like to meet while in therapy. He or she will ask about your personal history, current situation and symptoms. This initial assessment helps a therapist better understand the problem and it can help to uncover any underlying issues.
Be as open and honest as possible. Thoughts may flood your mind during the initial visit so it is important to recognize your reactions and feelings and share them with your therapist. It helps to build the therapeutic alliance necessary to create change in your life.
Will the therapist give me a diagnosis after the first session?
Therapy is a process, not a quick fix to any problems you are facing. Sometimes situations take longer to sort through. In the end, the therapist’s goal is to help you gain a better understanding of yourself and feel as if you have more choices to select from when problems arise.
Is everything I say confidential?
Confidentiality is a respected part of therapy. There are laws in place, including one known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, to protect individuals’ medical records and personal health information, including information about psychotherapy and mental health.
However, there are exceptions. If a client discusses plans to harm themselves or others; reports ongoing domestic, child or elder abuse; or if a court order is issued, the therapist can share information without consent.
Is there anything else I should know about therapy?
It’s important to know that you are not alone and seeking help is not something to be ashamed of. Therapy can be a powerful tool to improving your quality of life.