What to Expect From Your First Therapy Appointment for Phobia

Woman in a consultation with a therapist

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A first therapy appointment can be nerve-wracking and even trigger certain phobias. Knowing what to expect can calm your nerves and ensure a more productive initial appointment.

Seeking out the help of a professional who treats phobias is a huge step toward your recovery. Once you have located a health care provider and made your first appointment, you may be wondering what to expect from your initial meeting, what to ask your therapist and how to get the most out of treatment.

Going to therapy does not need to be a stressful and anxiety-inducing experience. However, most people are at least a little nervous about meeting their therapist for this first time. These feelings are natural and your therapist will most likely be anticipating your discomfort. A good therapist will try to ease your anxiety about therapy and offer therapeutic services with empathy and understanding.

Seeing a therapist can feel intimidating. Although there's less stigma attached to mental health disorders than there used to be, many people still feel they should be able to handle their own fears. In addition, a mental health setting may seem unfamiliar and frightening, and may even trigger certain phobias. Knowing what to expect can help you remain calm.

What Happens During Your First Visit to a Therapist

In many ways, an initial visit to a therapist is no different than a first appointment with a new doctor. Some therapists work in a setting with a reception area and you may be asked to fill out several forms, and then wait for your name to be called. Therapists' waiting rooms are often decorated in soothing motifs, with reading material generally available.

In the office, the therapist will ask about your symptoms and what you hope to achieve from therapy. He or she will conduct an interview, known as an intake interview, which is roughly equivalent to a psychological version of a physical examination. You will receive an initial diagnosis and recommended treatment plan. If your therapist is a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner, you might receive a prescription for medications, a referral to a specialist or be scheduled for diagnostic testing. Based on the therapist’s recommendations, a subsequent appointment will likely be scheduled.

How an Initial Therapist Visit Differs From a Doctor Visit

Although the overall process of an initial therapist visit is similar to that of a first doctor visit, there are several important differences. One of the most surprising may be the length of the appointment. While an average doctor visit may last less than 30 minutes, the average therapy appointment is about an hour, often 50 minutes. Legend has it that the “50 minute hour” was invented by Freud, who is said to have had a weak bladder.

The intake interview may feel extremely personal and even invasive. In order to develop a full understanding of your situation, the therapist needs to know many personal details. You may be asked questions about your family, your childhood, and other sensitive subjects. If you feel uncomfortable answering a question, let the therapist know. Rapport, or trust, develops over time, and good therapists understand that revealing certain details may take time.

Your initial diagnosis and treatment plan should be considered preliminary. In fact, some therapists prefer not to give diagnoses at all, but rather will discuss their understanding of your problem in layman's terms. Many therapists wait to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan until after they receive the results of diagnostic tests, or after several sessions have elapsed.

Many mental health conditions have similar symptoms, and working through the possibilities takes time, effort, and the establishment of a therapeutic relationship.

Inquire About the Therapist's Experience With Treating Phobias

Along with professional qualifications, it is necessary that your therapist has received training, education, and experience in treating phobias. Many therapists specialize in treating specific mental health conditions, such as eating disorders, mood disorders, or substance abuse. Other therapists treat a wide variety of disorders.

Regardless of whether your therapist specializes in one area or treats diverse conditions, it is important that they have an understanding of the treatment options available for panic disorder.

Learn What to Expect in Follow-Up Sessions

For those new to therapy, it is not uncommon to have many questions about what to expect. Your therapist will most likely explain the therapy process to you at one of your first sessions. Your therapist should let you know about the necessary time commitment. For example, most sessions will run for about 50 to 60 minutes. You may also be required to work on your therapeutic goals outside of your scheduled sessions.

Therapists may also vary in how long they will want you in treatment. Find out if your therapist will conduct therapy on a time-limited amount of sessions or will terminate services only after you have accomplished the goals on your treatment plan.

Ask About Office Policies and Protocols

Therapy can get expensive so you'll want to inquire about insurance coverage and potential co-payments as well as sliding scale fees based on income. Many therapists also have policies regarding missed appointments and cancellations.

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