Going into psychotherapy for the first time can be intimidating, especially for people who don’t know what to expect. Most people get their information about therapy from cartoons and movies, whereas therapy, in reality, is very different. Therapy types vary depending on the disorder being treated and the personal preference of the patient, but you first need to go to an in-patient visit.
For your first appointment, you will want to arrive early at the treatment center. Sometimes there will be an office window where you may be asked to check in to let your therapist know you have arrived, but with the onset of the pandemic, many places will ask you to sit and wait. They’re waiting for you in a chair or given to you by the receptionist will be some paperwork to fill out. It will ask for basic information about yourself, as well as go over your privacy rights.
Because therapy is part of the medical field, it needs to comply with HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). This means that your medical information will not be shared with anyone unless it is with your express permission. If you are worried about a therapist calling someone in your family to tell them what you said, you can take peace in that such a situation would never happen. You may indicate a family member or friend to keep up to date on your progress, but details are never shared. If a therapist for any reason discloses private information, you may report them at the official U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website.
When you first walk into a therapist’s office, you will be offered a place to sit and relax. Every office is different, but the main goal is to provide a warm and safe environment. You may notice a strange machine next to the door on the inside. That is called a white noise machine and is used to keep people walking by from overhearing your conversation. It also prevents total silence, which can be uncomfortable for many people. You may be offered a drink, such as water or coffee. Once you are comfortable, your therapist will move on to the next step.
Your Rights as a Patient
Usually, the first thing a therapist will do is explain what your rights as a patient are. You are not here to be held against your will or forced into treatments you don’t consent to. You are here to get well, and anything like that would be a complete detriment to the healing process. As discussed previously, your right to have your information kept private is perhaps one of the most important rights you have.
You may notice other rights that you might have never thought of, such as the right to end a session before the official ending time. If you are overwhelmed or feel that you cannot continue, you have the right to leave and the right to ask a subject to be dropped. Your therapist will respect this and not shame you for choosing to use your patient’s rights. You will be given copies of your rights for your records.
What You Want and Need
After the paperwork and the discussion of your rights, your therapist will introduce themselves and ask you to do the same. They will then ask you what you want to achieve in therapy. Again, they will not judge you for your answer, and if you don’t feel confident enough to go into details now, you may say so. For example, if you don’t want to discuss details about the child abuse you went through, you can just say something along the lines of ‘I’m here to learn how to cope with past trauma.’
They will ask you to describe any symptoms you may have and will take notes through the process. This is so they can study their notes later to help create a treatment plan. Once you have explained what you want and need, your therapist will go to the next step.
Your therapist will describe the treatment options they can provide for you. If they don’t provide specific treatment, they will often recommend someone who can. Usually, a therapist will begin with ‘talk’ therapy, and once they get a feel of your specific needs, they can offer other options to try. You may be recommended to see a psychiatrist if your therapist feels that medication may help you manage symptoms until you can do so on your own.
It is up to you to choose how you want to proceed. A therapist can suggest and recommend but cannot order you to do anything. You don’t even have to decide right then. You may leave the session and think about your options and then relay them the next time you meet.
Sometimes a therapist will assign ‘homework’ to their patients. Mostly it’s asking patients to keep a log of their feelings and the events that trigger them. Having this is very valuable in helping your therapist pick out patterns and potential triggers that worsen your quality of life.
After everything has been discussed, if there is time left over and you don’t want to leave yet, your therapist will ask you about yourself. This is so they can understand you better, not only for the things that make you sad but for things that bring you joy too. With that, your first session has ended, and you will see it wasn’t as hard as you may have expected.
Deciding to give therapy a try is a major step in helping improve your life. You cannot heal if you don’t want to heal, and deciding you need help is perhaps the bravest thing you can ever do. Here at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we are here to help you every step of the way. Nobody should have to face treatment alone and wonder what is going to happen next. Here, you can be assured that every step of the process will be explained to you. You will never be kept in the dark when it comes to your treatment, and you can be sure that your information will be kept private and safe. If you or someone you know is ready to give therapy a try, call (949) 866-3881 today to schedule your very first appointment. We are waiting to help you.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.