You've had your first therapy appointment. Now what?
by Maggie Jordan
After an intake appointment with a therapist, you may be excited for your next session, or you may be left feeling drained and unsure. It’s typical to experience a full range of emotional reactions throughout the course of therapy, and the first appointment in particular can be a bit of a rollercoaster.
Here are some tips to help navigate the potential highs and lows after your first therapy session:
1. Recognize that intake appointments are unique
Intake appointments are different from ongoing therapy sessions in that you are asked to provide a lot of information about your background. Therapists typically like to get a general sense of your history up front in order to determine if they are a good fit for you and establish initial therapy goals. It can be exhausting to try to explain your emotional history in less than an hour, especially to someone you don’t know.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the intake, know that the following sessions will be very different. Subsequent therapy sessions will feel more like a conversation and less like an interview. As your therapist gets to know you and develops a better understanding of what underlies your thought patterns and behaviors, they will be more supportive and actively involved in the session. After the first appointment, you will start focusing more on making progress towards your goals.
2. Consider what you did and didn’t like
If your therapist did or said something that you appreciated, like validating your identity, respecting your boundaries, or teaching you helpful skills, let them know! For example: “That was a helpful insight about how to express the way I’m feeling to my parents,” or “Thank you for the guidance on resolving arguments more productively; my partner felt really respected.” It’s important to acknowledge when therapy is headed in a good direction so you can continue to make progress in the way that works best for you.
On the other hand, if your first therapy experience was less positive, take some time to reflect on what exactly you didn’t like. Did you feel triggered discussing traumatic events? Let your therapist know you’re not ready to touch on that issue yet, and they won’t bring it up again until you do. Did some of the tools your therapist suggested work, but others weren’t for you? For example, you may have enjoyed the breathing exercises your therapist recommended, but not the meditation.
Or was it simply that you didn’t feel a connection with your therapist? That’s very common, and it’s important to recognize that at first, therapy can be a bit like dating: a lack of connection with one therapist doesn’t mean therapy isn’t going to work at all. If you didn’t connect with your therapist, consider setting up an intake with another provider, but don’t give up on therapy altogether!
3. Acknowledge that healing takes time, and be kind to yourself
If you find yourself feeling down after the intake appointment, that’s okay -- to a certain extent. Going to therapy isn’t the same as treating a headache or stomach bug: your symptoms aren’t going to resolve themselves overnight, and you may feel temporarily worse before you feel better. However, a good-fitting therapist should respond in a way that makes you feel affirmed and confident that in the future, you will start to feel better. Try to differentiate between the initial discomfort of discussing painful topics and a therapist who isn’t a good fit for your needs or personality.
Even with a good-fitting therapist, it takes time to unravel and process difficult emotions and build the skills to navigate challenging situations moving forward, so be persistent. Therapy works when you stick with it. Keep going.
Finally, take some time after your session to unwind and process any emotions that arise. If possible, avoid diving right back into school and work responsibilities, rushing onto public transit, or responding to texts and emails. Take a 15 minute walk. Notice your breathing. Treat yourself to tea, coffee, or a good book.
Regardless of how the session went, you’ve taken an important step in self-care. Be proud of yourself, and celebrate this important therapy milestone!
Maggie Jordan is Zencare's Therapist Success Manager. She is deeply committed to increasing access to care by streamlining the therapist search process, and particularly enjoys connecting LGBTQ+ folks with culturally competent therapists. She is a graduate of Brown University where she competed as a varsity swimmer.