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Eight Important Things to Do While You’re Waiting for Your First Therapy Session
You’ve made your first appointment with a therapist at a local agency or on an online platform. Maybe you only have to wait a few days for your first session, or maybe you have to wait for several weeks. Either way, you want to make sure you show up ready to get as much out of therapy as possible.
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- 1. Make sure you're set up to get to your first session on time.
- 2. Observe and take notes about your mental health every day.
- 3. Seek emergency help if your symptoms worsen significantly before your session.
- 4. Learn more about the style of therapy you're going to get.
- 5. Think about your goals for therapy and share them with your therapist.
- 6. Bring questions to ask your therapist.
- 7. Plan ahead of time for post-therapy reflection.
- 8. Consider other options if you're having a hard time getting in to see someone.
Make sure you're set up to get to your first session on time.
Being on time is important in therapy. Therapists usually schedule 45- or 50-minute “therapy hours” to allow them to take notes and prepare between back-to-back sessions. To make sure you get your full “hour,” it’s important to arrive at least five minutes before your session is scheduled to begin.
If you’re seeing a therapist at a physical location in the community, it’s a good idea to research the location first, plan your commute, and learn where to park (if you’re taking a car). If you’re having an online therapy session, you should make sure your internet connection and computer are set up properly.
By taking these steps, you can prevent missing part of your first session because of the time it took to find parking or get your internet connection working.
For More Information: Starting Therapy
During your first sessions, you’ll spend time getting to know your therapist and helping your therapist get to know you. They’ll ask a lot of questions so they can better understand your background, your needs, and what brings you to therapy.
For more information on what it’s like to start therapy, you can read our article “What to Expect from Your First Few Therapy Sessions.”
Observe and take notes about your mental health every day.
Journaling gives you a jumping-off point for what to talk about with your therapist. If you don’t already journal, consider starting one to help you gather your thoughts for therapy.
In addition to writing in whatever way comes naturally to you, consider tracking information related to the symptoms or concerns that are bringing you to therapy. It will help you get more out of your first therapy sessions by giving you data to share with your therapist. You may want to start a new journal for this.
Remember to bring your journal with you to your first session.
The Benefits of Keeping a Journal
Journaling can be an essential tool for maintaining your mental health. It helps you check in with yourself on a regular basis and connect how you’re feeling to what’s going on in your life.
Writing down your thoughts can be a great complement to the work you do in your therapy sessions. Research shows that personal writing can bolster the effects of therapy.
If you don’t have time to journal or keeping a written journal isn’t appealing to you, consider recording personal audio notes instead or exploring your feelings through another form of creative expression like music or painting.
Seek emergency help if your symptoms worsen significantly before your session.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can sometimes worsen to a point of crisis. If you’re thinking about harming yourself or someone else, can’t take care of yourself, are having a hard time telling what is real, or otherwise feel unsafe, you need help right away. Please call an emergency number or go to the emergency room at the hospital for immediate care if you’re in crisis.
Who to Call When You're in Crisis
If you’re going through a mental health crisis, there’s always someone you can call.
If you’re at immediate risk of harm, or have already harmed yourself, you should call 911 immediately.
If you’re not at immediate risk of harm and don’t need medical intervention right away, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or another mental health hotline.
For a list of crisis hotlines you can call, you can go to any of the following pages on our site:
- National and International Crisis Hotlines
- Free Mental Health Hotlines in the United States
- The United States Mental Health Services Guide
On that last page, you can find information specific to your state, including the mental health crisis hotline for your city or county. Just select your state to go to the full article, which includes a full resource list and other information about how your state’s mental health system works.
Learn more about the style of therapy you're going to get.
Learning more about a therapist’s method can help you get more out of your first therapy sessions.
Keep in mind that your therapist will probably spend your first session or two asking a lot of questions so they can assess your needs and plan your treatment. Still, understanding the method your therapist uses can help you know what information to gather and help you prepare for starting treatment.
For example, if you’re seeing a Jungian analyst, you may want to prepare by bringing in descriptions of recent dreams you’ve had. If you’re seeing someone who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you can prepare by noting worrisome thoughts you’re experiencing or situations that trigger symptoms you want to address.
For More Information: Therapy Methods
For more information about the most popular methods therapists use, including explanations of how they work and examples of what therapy sessions using those methods are like, you can read our article “Which Therapy Method Is Right for Me?“
Think about your goals for therapy and share them with your therapist.
In your first therapy sessions, you’ll talk about your reasons for coming to therapy, including any goals you may have for your time in therapy.
It’s okay to start without concrete goals, but therapy is more effective when you have at least some idea of what you want to accomplish. By knowing what you want to get out of therapy, you’ll be able to track your progress and your therapist will be able to focus your sessions on what’s most important to you.
For More Information: Setting Goals
For more information on how to set goals for therapy, including lots of examples and step-by-step guides, you can read our article “Making Therapy Successful: Setting Goals for Therapy.”
Bring questions to ask your therapist.
While most therapists are prepared to work with a wide range of people, it can sometimes take a few tries to find the therapist who’s the best match for you.
If you have information about your therapist, review it before your session to see if any concerns about compatibility arise. Come up with some questions you can ask to check.
For example, you might want to ask if your therapist has worked with other people with your symptoms or how long they expect it will take to reach your therapeutic goals.
It’s okay if you feel like they’re not a good match and decide to keep looking. Therapists value the fit between client and therapist as much as you and will understand. A strong therapeutic alliance is an essential component of successful therapy.
For More Information: The Interview
For more information on how to interview your therapist, including lists of example questions you can ask, you can read our article “The Five Steps to Background Check Your Therapist.”
Plan ahead of time for post-therapy reflection.
First sessions can bring up deep feelings and unexpected insights. Try to schedule free time after your first session for personal reflection. If you keep a journal, it’s a good idea to bring it with you. It’s great to talk to someone you trust about how your session went, but it’s still a good idea to collect your thoughts on your own before you do.
To do that, you may want to go to a favorite coffee shop or park immediately after therapy, or you may want to go home and get cozy. It can feel really good to follow up a therapy session with another form of self-care. Consider doing yoga, going for a walk, playing with your pet, drawing or painting, or reading a favorite book.
Consider other options if you're having a hard time getting in to see someone.
It’s common to have to wait a couple of weeks to get in to see a therapist. But sometimes the wait is even longer. Some people wait months—or even as long as a year—to get in with a particular therapist.
If the wait is really long, consider whether it’s worth it. How specific are your therapy preferences? How much special expertise do you need a therapist to have? If you don’t have a compelling reason to wait to see this one specific person, consider looking for another therapist.
At OpenCounseling, we advise putting a lot of thought into choosing a therapist and believe finding the right match is key to success in therapy. However, it’s possible to over-think it, and the timing of when you start therapy is usually at least as important as which therapist you see.
For More Information: Waiting Lists
For more information that can help you figure out whether it’s worth it to wait to see a specific therapist, and to learn how to get the therapist you’re waiting to see to help you with a referral, you can read our article “What to Do When There’s a Waiting List.”
If you’ve been waiting a long time to see a therapist who accepts your insurance, you might want to consider alternative ways of getting therapy at a price you can afford. Low-cost counseling may be available in your area through non-profit agencies or from therapists who offer a sliding scale.
Online counseling is another excellent option and can often be an affordable one. You may want to consider trying our sponsor BetterHelp.
We hope this article will help you get off to a great start in therapy. Waiting can be frustrating, but embracing the wait can help you set yourself up for success. Be patient—you may be just days away from changing your life!
Stephanie Hairston is a freelance mental health writer who spent several years in the field of adult mental health before transitioning to professional writing and editing. As a clinical social worker, she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments.