Seeking therapy for the first time

Many people are nervous when meeting with a new mental health provider for the first time. These tips will help you come prepared and ensure a positive experience:

I'm nervous about therapy. Wouldn't it be easier to talk to a friend?

Feeling nervous isn't uncommon. While you don’t need to be in crisis to benefit from therapy, we often seek therapy during difficult times in our lives, and the idea of sharing our private thoughts and feelings with a stranger can seem scary or strange. That being said, talking to a therapist about the past, present and future-- about the things that make you sad, depressed, anxious, angry, or ashamed-- can be a major relief. Talking with a therapist allows you to focus on yourself without having to worry about what someone else might think.

A therapist is also different from a friend just listening to our problems. While a therapist is always a compassionate, non-judgmental listener, they also have years of education and training in spotting patterns in thoughts and behaviors (both good and bad), relationship dynamics, effective interventions for all kinds of difficulties, and ways to guide you through them. A friend’s close relationship with you may prevent them from seeing the whole picture, while a therapist has an outside perspective, and, with kindness, will be honest and direct with you. Therapy is a safe and supportive place to find healthier ways of coping and confronting your issues, to make sense of past traumatic experiences, and to continue on to a healthier and happier life post-therapy.

Scheduling your appointment:

When you call our clinic to make your first appointment it will be helpful to our schedulers to have a brief explanation of why you are calling. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing, that’s okay, but something as simple as “I’m having a hard time and I don’t know what to do,” “I think I’m depressed,” “I feel anxious all the time,” or “my moods feel out of control,” will help our schedulers find a better fit for you, and your therapist will be better prepared to help you.

Preparing for your first appointment:

Prior to meeting with your provider, you will need to complete a number of new client forms. Please arrive 20-30 minutes ahead of your appointment time to check in and complete the new client paperwork. You can save time on the day of your appointment by completing the New Client Personal History Form online ahead of time.

What to bring:

  • A complete list of all prescription medications you're currently taking. Often your pharmacy can print this list for you.
  • Your ID and insurance card.
  • Any questions and concerns for your clinician.

What happens at a first appointment?

Understanding Therapy vs Psychiatry:

At ACP, your care may fall into two basic types of treatment: therapy (also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy or counseling) and psychiatry (medication).

WHAT TO EXPECT FOR THERAPY:

If you are looking for non-medication help, you will be meeting with a therapy provider. Therapy providers include licensed psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage/family therapists and clinical counselors.

Your first appointment, called an initial evaluation, will take a little longer than a typical therapy appointment. An initial evaluation is primarily focused on information-gathering for your therapist, and so will be a little different from a typical therapy session. Along with asking what lead you to seek therapy and what you hope to achieve, they may ask general questions about your history, medical and personal, and about your relationships with friends and family. They may also ask questions that may not seem immediately relevant to your problems. It’s important to be honest with your therapist, but you can share as much or as little as you feel comfortable with.

It can be helpful to write a short list of things you want to discuss during your appointment; things that you think might be important for your therapist to know and understand about you, or any questions you may have about the process. It’s okay to have questions!

Before the end of your session, you and your therapist will discuss your treatment goals and how often you should return. Depending on the nature of your problems, your therapist may also refer you to a psychiatry provider for medication, to one of our therapy groups, or for additional psychological testing to help guide your diagnosis and treatment.

WHAT TO EXPECT FOR PSYCHIATRY:

If you are seeking medication to help manage physical symptoms of a mental health disorder, you will be meeting with a psychiatry provider, either a physician or an advanced practice nurse with a certification in psychiatric services. The goal of this appointment is to assess your symptoms and health history and come up with a medication plan. You will likely leave the appointment with one or more prescriptions for medication, and will be asked to schedule a follow up appointment for a few weeks later, to see how the prescribed medications are working for you.

Psychiatric appointments do not include therapy. For the best possible outcomes, we encourage all clients receiving medication services to see a therapist prior to their psychiatry appointment and also on a regular basis.

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