Expect to do a lot of the talking.
The first session is a lot like an icebreaker or a meet-and-greet. Your therapist wants a well-rounded idea of the issues you’re facing. They will likely ask about your family life and childhood for a holistic picture of who you are. But if you’re nervous the night before and begin making a list of what you want to touch on, hold back.
“Sometimes that can be anxiety-provoking for people to think that they have to be able to say '1, 2, 3, go!’ and lay all of their issues out on the table,” says Duff. Think of this instead as a safe space to go wherever your mind takes you, and to speak candidly.
Remember: You are not obliged to disclose anything that makes you uncomfortable. Similarly, your therapist is legally prohibited from disclosing anything discussed during the session (unless it poses a threat to you or others). The conversation may feel one-sided, but that’s the point. You’ll work through each issue during subsequent sessions, and you can bring up other points as the weeks go by. Your first session sets the tone of your work together, but it doesn’t set a rigid framework of what you’ll talk about.
Make it a two-way interview.
If you’re shopping around for the perfect fit, gain a broader sense of how your therapist plans to help you. For certain types of therapy, be it cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, or family systems therapy, there are short-term or long-term approaches, says Duff. Ask your therapist what they specialize in, how that would apply to you, and how long of a time commitment you should expect. While Duff says progress is possible in as little as a few weeks, therapeutic miracles often don’t happen overnight. Go in with an open mind and an expectation to do what it takes (within reason) to overcome what’s plaguing you.
You might not jive with them at first.
Finding the right therapist is a lot like swiping your way through prospective partners. You shouldn’t feel obliged to settle for or continue with the first one you see. It’s your money, and essentially your life. Listen to your intuition and be honest about how comfortable they make you feel: Does their area of expertise align with what you’re facing? Say they specialize in adolescent depression, and that’s why you’re on the couch. Great! But sometimes it’s hard to put a finger — or a credential — on what creates chemistry between a therapist and a client. Maybe you need a few weeks to ease into the therapeutic process and develop that relationship. That said, "if your therapist has a personality that you simply dislike or they say something that offends you, you absolutely have the right to look for someone else,” Duff says. “There are a wide variety of mental health providers out there, so you never need to feel stuck.”