So, you have an appointment setup to meet with a therapist or counselor, now what?
The first meeting will likely be an intake. At an intake appointment you won't be doing therapy so much but it helps the therapist gain information about your current needs. While you may not get into too much counseling, you will have the opportunity to review some highlights of where you are struggling or would like to improve in your life.
Other things that you will likely experience are signing papers regarding privacy, financial agreements, and basic information such as your name and contact information. Once you start discussing the reasons that brought you to the therapy this can be a great time to interview the therapist or counselor to ensure it will be a good fit. Don't be afraid to ask the therapist how they can help you, such as, what ways they structure their sessions. You may also want to ask how often they suggest meeting with you.
Depending on your needs, a therapist may suggest a couple sessions a week to start if things need more immediate attention. On average, they may ask to see you about once a week or every two weeks. Over time, as progress is noted, you will likely see them less. Most likely the goal will be to see improvement as it relates to the agreed therapy goals. This brings us to the treatment plan.
Oftentimes, a therapist or counselor will work with you on a treatment plan. This is to help structure your sessions so that you can see progress in areas you wanted to see improved. This is also something that may be covered in your initial meeting. A treatment plan includes measurable goals. The goals should be easy for you to understand and something that you both agree on. In example, if you are experiencing social anxiety a measurable goal may be "John will attend two social events in three months." Another goal in this example might be "John will learn to reduce anxiety in social settings by using at least 3 coping skills." The treatment plan would likely include the coping strategies John will use, such as, specific calming techniques to reduce his anxiety that he can practice.
More than likely, it may have taken some time to realize that you needed some extra support to sort through the reasons you sought therapy. Because of this, it will take some time to work through ways you can improve your life and allow time to learn, or even re-learn, strategies that can help. Most therapists would suggest a minimum of 6 months in treatment- while a year or more is probably a better time line to consider. Other things might come up in sessions that were not realized in the beginning and may be another addition to working toward improving, so, the treatment goals may take on a slightly different need.
Take time to ask the therapist or counselor what ideas they have on how they can help. In my practice at Creative Pathways I provide a Person-Centered approach. This means you will decide on what you want to work on and together we would work on what treatment goals would be most suitable for you to see progress. Other things to consider is if you feel comfortable with the therapist. Granted, the reasons you likely sought help are for things that you wouldn't normally talk about with a stranger- so be mindful that you may be feeling a bit vulnerable when addressing your needs. Is he/she listening to your needs? Are they understanding and supportive? It might take a couple sessions to get a good evaluation about the person you chose to see.
If you believe it's not a good fit, give the therapist an opportunity to discuss that with you before moving onto someone else. It's good feedback for them and might even mean there was a misunderstanding about your personal goals that needs to be reviewed again. In the end, you are taking a very big step toward recovery and change and that is something to be celebrated in progress!
Sheilagh is an Artist and Art Therapist who believes in healing with art and creativity.