Depression Treatment What to Expect During Your First Therapy Session The Tools to Help You Feel Prepared By Nancy Schimelpfening Nancy Schimelpfening Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be. Learn about our editorial process Updated on December 04, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Amy Morin, LCSW Medically reviewed by Amy Morin, LCSW Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk, "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Choosing a Therapist Paperwork First Session Treatment Length Methods Confidentiality Questions to Ask Finding the Right Fit If you have an appointment with a counselor for your first therapy session, you might not know what to expect. Or perhaps you're considering starting therapy but don't know where to begin. Knowing where to start and what to expect during your first session can help you feel more comfortable and informed. Learn more about the different types of therapy, what to expect from your first appointment, what questions to ask your therapist, and more. How to Choose the Best Type of Therapy For You How to Choose a Therapist No two therapists are the same. Asking the right questions will help you choose the best therapist for you. Questions to ask before you make an appointment: Affiliations: "What professional associations do you belong to?" Knowing more about a therapist's professional affiliations can give you a better idea of their credentials, background, and current focus. Background: "What is your academic background, and what has your training been to prepare you to practice as a therapist?" Making sure your a potential therapist has training and experience in treating your condition or concerns means you will be more likely to get the appropriate treatment you need. Cost: "What are your fees? How will my insurance claim be handled?" Not all therapists accept insurance, so it is important to consider the cost and payment before starting treatment. Rates may also vary considerably. Experience: "What specialized training and/or experience have you had working with the issue I am dealing with?" An experienced therapist can recognize the problems you are facing, which can give them greater insight into the treatments and techniques that can most help you. Rules: "What are your office protocols?" (e.g., booking appointments, payment for missed appointments, emergencies, building access after hours, etc.) Understanding how such situations or handled can help protect your working relationship and ensure that your sessions proceed with fewer issues. Specialties: "What type of therapy do you do?" It can be helpful to know whether the therapist does mostly talk therapy or if they include opportunities for role-playing, visualizing, hypnosis, artwork, 'bodywork,' and other techniques. You may prefer a specific approach, but some techniques may be more helpful for certain types of problems. The Best Online Therapy Programs We've tried, tested and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, Betterhelp, and Regain. Before Your First Therapy Session When you get to the therapist's office, expect your initial experience to be similar to a doctor's appointment. You will sign in when you get there, sit in the waiting room, and wait for someone to call your name. If your therapist has a home practice, the scene might be a bit more casual. While waiting, you will likely fill out some paperwork, including: HIPPA formsInsurance informationMedical history, including your current medicationsA questionnaire about your symptomsRecord release formTherapist-patient services agreement If you feel uncomfortable answering any of the questions on paper, you can wait until you are with the therapist and answer the questions orally. You might also have the option to complete this paperwork at home prior to your first visit. Your First Therapy Session Your first session with the therapist will be different from future visits. The initial visit is a period for you and your therapist to get to know each other and get an idea of how to proceed. Future visits will be more therapeutic in nature. For example, in your second session, you may explore a specific symptom, problem, or past trauma you mentioned in the first session. Keep in mind that psychotherapy usually requires multiple visits, so don't expect any instant solutions to your problems the first day. Therapy is about equipping you with life-long solutions and not a quick fix. During the first session, your therapist may ask you: What are your symptoms?What brought you to therapy?What do you feel is wrong in your life?Some questions about your history, including your childhood, education, relationships (family, romantic, friends), your current living situation, and your career You and your therapist should also come to an agreement about the length of your treatment, methods to be employed, and ins and outs of patient confidentiality. Length of Treatment Depending on your issue and therapy goals, therapy can last a few sessions or several weeks or years. While you likely want to know how long it's going to take to "feel better," there's no simple answer. It's very individualized. In addition, some insurance plans only cover a set number of sessions in a given year, so you may need to factor in those limitations and/or work with your therapist to come up with a payment plan. How Long Should I Be in Therapy? Therapy Methods Therapists have training in a variety of techniques that can help you better cope with mental illness, resolve personal issues, and create personal changes in your life. Finding out what technique or combination of techniques your therapist will use can give you a better idea of what will happen during your sessions. Some common types of therapy include: Client-centered therapy (person-centered therapy): A non-directive form of talk therapy that emphasizes positive unconditional regard Cognitive or cognitive-behavioral therapy: Focuses on making connections between thoughts, behavior, and feelings Existential therapy: Focuses on you (free will, self-determination) rather than the symptom Gestalt therapy: Focuses on the "here and now" experience of the client Psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapy: Focuses on getting in touch with and working through painful feelings in the unconscious mind The Basic Methods of Different Therapy Types Patient Confidentiality In most cases, a therapist is required to keep information discussed during therapy private. However, according to the American Psychological Association's "Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct," confidential information can be disclosed with the permission of the individual or as permitted by the law. While the specifics of a legal duty to warn vary by state, in most cases, a therapist is required to breach confidentiality if a client poses an imminent threat to themselves, the therapist, or a third party. The information must be divulged to a person capable of taking action to reduce the threat, for example, a police officer. What to Ask Your Therapist When the therapist finishes, they should ask you if you have any questions. You can use this opportunity to get to know your therapist a little better by asking more about their training, experience, approaches, and goals for therapy. Questions to Ask During Your First Therapy Session How can you assure my confidentiality?How long will each session last?How many sessions will it take to resolve my issue?Will you briefly explain what I can expect to happen in my sessions? What Not to Say to Your Therapist Is Your Therapist Right for You? A big part of successful therapy is feeling comfortable with your therapist, which may come over time. However, if after a few meetings, you’re just not clicking, you do have the choice to seek out another therapist. To determine if you're receiving the best care from your therapist, the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses recommends asking yourself the following questions: Do they challenge you?Do they check-in with you?Do they guide you to your goals?Do they help you learn?Do they show acceptance and compassion?Do they treat you as an equal? If your answer to any of these questions is "No," then it's likely time to consider changing therapists. At the end of your session, just tell your therapist that you will not be returning. Don't be surprised if your therapist asks why. You can answer honestly (you just feel like you're not clicking) or just say that you prefer not to say. In most cases, your therapist will be professional and can recommend another therapist who will be a better fit. A Word From Verywell Knowing what to expect during your first therapy session can help you feel more prepared. Your first session is often about you and your therapist getting to know one another, determining if the therapist is a good fit for your needs, and going over what you want to accomplish in therapy. Understanding What Your Therapist Does 4 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. American Psychological Association. Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. 2017. National Conference of State Legislatures. Mental Health Professionals' Duty to Warn. Department of Health & Human Services. HIPAA Privacy Rule and Sharing Information Related to Mental Health. Greenstein L. How Do I Know If My Therapist Is Effective? National Alliance on Mental Illness. 2018. By Nancy Schimelpfening Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Depression Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.