What to Expect in Your First Counseling Session

So, you’ve finally built up the courage to book your first session with a counselor. You’ve already struggled to deal with your problem by yourself, and it’s really painful to admit to yourself that none of the strategies you’ve tried so far have worked. Your problem is still there, and it hasn’t gone away on its own. In fact, if anything, it might be getting worse. And now there’s a sort of jittery feeling in your stomach as you wait for your first counseling session.

The thoughts are circling around in your mind:

‘I bet they’ll just tell me I’m making a fuss about nothing.’

‘Oh god. I hope I don’t start crying.’

‘What if I say something stupid?’

‘They’ll probably think I’m weak for not managing to sort this out by myself.’

‘Will my problem freak them out???’

‘What if they think I’m crazy?’

Any of this sound familiar? Relax. Take a slow, deep breath…. and take a long, long breath out. Your first therapy or counseling session is probably going to be okay!

Here’s what you need to know before your first counseling session:

1. It’s Normal to Feel Nervous

Let’s face it: meeting a stranger, and potentially revealing stuff to them that’s personal and private – stuff you don’t entirely understand yourself – is scary!

It’s perfectly normal to be nervous or anxious before your first therapy session. Try not to fret about what to say or how to act, and just congratulate yourself for taking the step to improve your mental health. You’re allowed to feel scared, overwhelmed, or even excited.

Beating yourself up for feeling scared or anxious 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 scared or nervous you are and allowing the therapist to help you become centered again.

2. Your Counselor Won’t Be Judging You

Two things that nobody wants from a therapist are (1) judgement and (2) pity. Luckily, good therapists don’t judge their clients nor do they pity them. To your counselor, you are someone who is courageous. Someone who has done the best they know how. Someone who has tried bravely to overcome their difficulties. Someone who is now doing the bravest thing of all: realizing that there is a problem and seeking effective help.

3. It’s Okay to Cry

Do you feel anxious about shedding tears? If you come from a background in which crying was somehow alarming or shameful, the answer’s probably ‘yes.’ Weeping in your therapist’s office might at first feel well outside your comfort zone. But you really don’t need to worry. A good, well-trained therapist knows that tears are not dangerous.  When you cry, they aren’t going to feel destabilized, or anxious, or somehow superior. Your therapist wants to help you reach the point where you can cry when you need to, without feeling overwhelmed or flooded by the emotion.

4. You’re Not as Weak as You Think

Your therapist will know that making the decision to come to therapy is a brave, strong step. You’re not being weak! Weak people try to bury their issues, or push them away, not face them. It’s so much easier to do the weaker thing of blaming everyone else, rather than to hold your hand up and say ‘I’m struggling here — and I’m going to own my part in my difficulties and actually do something about it’.

Many, many people come to therapy feeling embarrassed and inadequate because they haven’t been able to manage their problems on their own. But humans were designed to be interdependent! That’s how our brains (and bodies) have been constructed. It’s not weakness; it’s how we’re built.

5. Therapy Isn’t Something that’s ‘Done to You’

For your brain to be in a state where it can change for the better, you need to feel relatively safe and fairly calm. And you need to feel that you are choosing to be doing this work on yourself. If you feel forced or coerced in any way, positive changes won’t happen.

Counseling will only work with your permission. No one can make you reveal anything (or do anything) in counseling that is against your will. Similarly, no-one can expect to be passive in therapy and achieve good results. Therapy can feel like really hard work at times. You will need to have the courage to face things that may be hard to face, and you will need to persist and keep on coming back when the going feels tough. Hard work — but SO worth it!

6. You Need to Have a Reasonably Good Feeling About Your Therapist by the End of Your First Counseling Session

By the end of the first session, you should expect to have at least a sense of whether you and your therapist are a good fit, whether you’d like to continue seeing them, and what working with this particular therapist might be like. You should feel as if your biggest questions were answered and that you have at least a basic grasp of what approach your therapist will be using. You should not expect to feel totally better or to have your problems resolved immediately.

7. The Therapist has ‘Heard it All Before’

Think your problem is so weird that the therapist will be appalled or confused by it? Think again. If he’s been in business for any length of time, the chances are that he’s already come across someone who’s been troubled by something similar. And even if he hasn’t, he’s probably read about this kind of thing in a book.

Yes, you are unique. But most problems are more common than you might think. Just because none of your friends and acquaintances seem to be afflicted with whatever you are struggling with, does not mean that you are the only one in the world.

8. Counseling or Therapy is Very Different from Talking to a Friend

Often, family members or friends can help you through rough times. But sometimes a professional guide is needed, who:

  • Doesn’t feel overwhelmed by your issues
  • Is separate from the main players in your personal drama and can provide a more objective viewpoint
  • Has years of training and experience in listening in an entirely different way
  • Can support you when support is needed, but who isn’t afraid to challenge you when necessary
  • Puts you at the center and doesn’t get distracted by having their own history with you
  • Understands what trauma does to a person and how to help

If you’re contemplating therapy, New Horizons Counseling is currently taking new clients at an affordable, private-pay rate. Contact us today and get started on your journey to your best self.