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Eight Important Things to Do While You're Waiting for Your First Therapy Session

Eight Important Things to Do While You're Waiting for Your First Therapy Session

You've made your first appointment with a counselor at a local agency or an online counseling service. Maybe you only have to wait a few days, or maybe you have to wait for several weeks before you can start. You want to make sure you get the most out of your first session. What should you do to prepare? 

The following steps can help make your first day of therapy a success.

1. Make sure you have everything set up to make it to your first session on time.

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 that your Internet connection and computer are set up properly.

2. Observe and take notes about your mental health every day.

For many people, journaling is an essential mental health tool. It can also help you get more out of your first therapy sessions by giving you data to share with your therapist. In addition to your regular journaling practice, consider tracking information related to the symptoms or concerns that are bringing you to therapy. Remember to bring your journal with you to your first session. 

3. Be prepared to seek emergency help if symptoms worsen significantly before your session.

Depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions can sometimes worsen to a point of crisis. If you're thinking about harming yourself or someone else, 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 are in crisis.

4. Learn more about the style of therapy you're going to engage in.

Learning more about a therapist's method can help you get more out of your first therapy session. For example, if you're seeing a therapist who provides Jungian depth therapy, 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.

5. Think about your goals for therapy and share them with your therapist.

An initial therapy session has two main purposes: for your therapist to get information about your history and for you to talk about your reasons for coming to 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.

6. 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 is the best match for you. Consider your first session a mutual interview. If you have information about your therapist, review it before your session to see if any concerns about compatibility arise. 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 is okay if you feel like you're not a good match and decide to look for another therapist. A strong therapeutic alliance is an essential component of successful therapy.

7. 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 if you have someone you trust that you want to talk to about how your session went, but it's still a good idea to collect your thoughts on your own before you do. Research shows that personal writing can bolster the effects of therapy.

8. Consider other options if you're having a hard time getting in to see someone.

If you've been waiting a long time to see a therapist who accepts your insurance, you might want to consider alternatives. Low-cost counseling may be available in your area through non-profit agencies or therapists who accept payment on a sliding scale. Online counseling is another excellent option. You may consider trying our sponsor BetterHelp. Therapy is more accessible than ever before, and with a little bit of research, you can find the right place to begin.


Rose, Grenville, and Smith, Lorraine. "Mental Health Recovery, Goal Setting and Working Alliance in an Australian Community-Managed Organization." Health Psychology Open, 5(1). Published May 14, 2018. Retrieved March 17, 2019.

Norcross, John C., and Wampold, Bruce E. "Evidence-Based Therapy Relationships: Research Conclusions and Clinical Practices." Psychotherapy, 48(1): 98-102. Published March 2011. Retrieved March 17, 2019.

Esterling, Brian A., et al. "Empirical Foundations for Writing in Prevention and Psychotherapy: Mental and Physical Health Outcomes." Clinical Psychology Review, 19(1): 79-96. Published January 1999. Retrieved March 17, 2019.

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Stephanie Hairston, MSW
Posted on 03/18/2019 by Stephanie Hairston, MSW

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 masters-level clinical social worker, she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments. She has also worked as a technical writer for a medical software company and as an editor for a company that appeals denials of insurance coverage for behavioral health treatment. As a writer, she is motivated by the same desire to help others that brought her into the field of social work and believes that knowledge is one of the most essential recovery tools. She strongly believes in the mission of OpenCounseling and in making therapy accessible for everyone.