Therapy 101
April 4, 2024

What to Expect from Your First Therapy Session

Written by
Margaret Anton, PhD
Reviewed by
Updated on
Woman wearing green sweater and brown jacket waves to therapist on laptop

So, you've taken the big step of starting therapy. Except now, your first session is coming up, and you might not have any idea what to expect.

The truth is, a lot of people who are new to therapy don’t know what to expect. Or, they may have an idea in their head about what therapy looks like that they’ve gathered from movies, TV, and other cultural stereotypes. Even people who have been to therapy before may notice a lot of feelings coming up meeting a new therapist. All of this is valid and normal. 

Learning what to expect can help calm any nerves you have about starting therapy and help you make the most of your time with your therapist. Here are some things to know about your first therapy session so you can feel more prepared.

You may be feeling many things

Starting therapy can bring up different feelings for different people. Sharing your feelings, thoughts, and experiences with a stranger is hard, and can bring up uncomfortable emotions related to what you’ve been through. 

Try to remember that it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling about beginning therapy. You’re doing something positive to take care of yourself, and that takes a lot of bravery. 

If helpful, consider writing in a journal to help yourself process these feelings. You can even bring these feelings up with your therapist if you want to. In fact, your feelings around being in therapy are just one of the many things you can talk about with your therapist. Read our guide on what to talk about in therapy if you’re feeling stuck on what you want to or can discuss.

While starting therapy and being vulnerable can be difficult, know that many people end up feeling supported and relieved after beginning care. Your first session is really just a get-to-know-you meeting, and your therapist will help guide you through it.

You get to decide where therapy happens

When picturing therapy, people often envision themselves lying on a couch, or in a sterile doctor's office. In reality, therapy spaces are designed to flex to your preferences, and help you feel at ease.

Therapy can even happen from the comfort of your own space. In recent years, teletherapy (or virtual therapy done over video) has become much more common, and is just as effective as in-person care for most people. At Two Chairs, while we do offer in-person care in some locations, many of our clients see their therapist virtually. And your first therapy session with us, just like your matching appointment, will always be virtual.

We recommend you find a quiet, safe, and private space for your teletherapy sessions where you’ll feel comfortable won’t be disturbed. We know this can be tricky, especially if you live with others, but all you really need is a strong internet connection, good lighting (so your therapist can see your face), and some privacy. 

To learn about troubleshooting tech issues and how to get the most out of teletherapy, read our tips for a successful teletherapy session.

Your therapist will ask you some questions

While every therapist is different, there are some basics that you’ll probably cover in your first session. 

As we said before, your first session is really just an opportunity for you and your therapist to get to know each other and to lay the foundation for a strong relationship.

Some questions they may ask you include: 

  • What brings you to therapy at this point in your life?
  • Have you been in care before?
  • What kinds of symptoms are you experiencing?
  • What are you hoping to get out of therapy? 

You’ll also have the opportunity to share

Your therapist is there to help guide your sessions, especially initially, but remember: One of the best ways to make therapy successful for you is to take an active role in your care. 

At Two Chairs, we support your ability to do that with mental health check-ins, which are brief questionnaires you’ll complete before each session. By engaging with your mental health check-ins, you’ll be able to strengthen your partnership with your therapist and reflect on your progress in a way that can help you reach your mental health goals. Your therapist will explain this to you more in your first session. 

Additionally, while your therapist is an expert on mental health, you’re the expert on you. The combination of your therapist's expertise and your lived experience can add up to care that's tailored to you and supportive of your needs. Your therapist will be looking to you to share about your experiences and help them understand your worldview, cultural experiences, and background. 

If you’ve had other care experiences, it can be helpful to share what was useful or not so your therapist can better plan your care. It’s also often helpful to come to your first session with a sense of what you would like to work on. Your therapist will help guide you if you’re feeling stuck. 

You’ll discuss your goals and length of care expectations

At Two Chairs, we aim to match you with the right therapist who can help you reach your mental health goals, whatever they may be.

People have all kinds of goals, like, “I want to be able to go to this party without having a panic attack,” or, “I want to feel like I can get out of bed in the morning so that I don’t keep missing work.” We encourage you to think about goals like these that are specific and measurable, and not something like “I want to feel better.”

In your first session, you’ll likely talk about what you want to get out of therapy. If you aren't sure yet, don't worry — your therapist will be ready to help you think it through. If you feel comfortable, here are some helpful questions you can ask yourself to start thinking about your goals for therapy:

  • What would I like my life to look like after therapy?
  • How will I know if therapy was successful for me?
  • What are one or two things I’d like to change or be different?
  • Why is it important to me to make these changes?

Your therapist will also talk to you about how long they expect you to be in care, which can depend on factors like your needs, your goals, and your insurance coverage.

We know it can feel awkward to start therapy with someone new, but we encourage you to give it at least four sessions to have the chance to build a connection — sometimes, it takes a few sessions to build trust and feel comfortable. 

Therapists are open to (and expect) discussion about how therapy is going for you. Our mental health check-ins are another way you can communicate and give feedback to your provider — our therapists are trained to respond to your feedback in a nonjudgmental and supportive way. These tools can strengthen the relationship between you and your therapist, and facilitate your progress in care.

If all of this is overwhelming to think about, remember that your therapist is ready to meet you where you are. They can provide as much structure as you need to get started. 

As you prepare for your first therapy session, take a moment to yourself, remind yourself that it’s okay to feel how you feel about starting therapy, and congratulate yourself for being brave and taking this big step.

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Let us find the right therapist for you

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