So, you’ve made your first appointment to see a psychologist…Now what?
Congratulations, taking the first step to see a psychologist can be a daunting and confronting process. Take a moment to recognise the strength and bravery this took.
Let’s start at the beginning – arriving to your appointment. Make sure you know where you’re going and how to get there (check what parking is around or the closes public transport station). You don’t want the added stress of peak hour traffic weighing on your mind. After arriving to your appointment, take a seat in the waiting room and relax – your psychologist will guide you through every step at a pace that feels comfortable for you. If there is anything you need to feel more at ease, let your psychologist know. Some people like to bring someone into the room with them, others choose not to speak about certain topics in the first session, and others prefer not to sit with their backs to the door or a window. All of this can all be arranged to make you feel as comfortable as possible.
While you’re waiting, your psychologist may ask you to fill out some paperwork, similar to what you might complete at any other health care appointment. When the administrative side is finished, your psychologist will bring you to a consulting room, which should be both comfortable and professional. Don’t be alarmed if you see a couch – it’s usually there for family or couples’ therapy.
It’s important to know that the first session is unique and won’t be like any of the subsequent sessions. Your psychologist will take this time to get a really good understanding of you as a diverse, unique person. For this reason, there is generally no treatment during the first session. Most psychologists follow the biopsychosocial model of mental health and will ask a wide variety of questions about each of these areas. They will ask you about your physical health (including any medication that may impact your sessions or well-being), your psychological history (such as current or past diagnoses and symptoms), and your social environment (things like your friendship circles, family dynamics and romantic relationships). They will ask about your strengths and hobbies, and also about deeper issues and things that may not be going so well. Your psychologist will take all the information they’ve learnt about you and develop a model of what may be maintaining your difficulties and suggest a few treatment options. This is a collaborative process, so please continue to ask questions, voice your needs, and take notes during session. Your psychologist will value your input.
Most people see a psychologist when they’re in pain. It’s completely normal to feel emotional during the first session. If you have been shouldering this heavy burden for weeks, months or years, speaking about it can feel relieving and overwhelming. It is OK to feel sad, hopeless, or angry. Your psychologist is a professional and will be able to hold whatever you need to express. We actually see this as a positive thing – it means you’re in touch with these vulnerable parts of yourself and gives us a really accurate understanding of what’s happening for you.
One of the last things your psychologist will ask you is what your goals are. What you would like to get from coming to sessions. This may be learning skills to manage your anxiety, depression, or anger, or communication skills to strengthen your relationships. It could be understanding repeating or disruptive patterns and learning to change these patterns, or to create more (or less) boundaries in your personal or professional life. It may be helpful to think about your goals before the first session. This way your psychologist can make sure they tailor their treatment plan to get you where you want to go. After all, this time is yours.
After the first session, your psychologist will ask if you’d like to make any future appointments and recommend a frequency (usually weekly or fortnightly). At the beginning of treatment your psychologist will recommend consistent psychology sessions as a way to build momentum and make real progress, although this may change over time as you achieve your goals and things become easier. Any change can be difficult and effortful, and psychological change is no different. But – the process can also be incredibly rewarding and bring you closer to the life that you want to live.
At the end of your session, you may feel drained. This is completely normal; it is not often that we spend 50 minutes speaking about very personal topics. It’s important that you take care of yourself. If you can, take the rest of the day off, spend some time in a park or at a café, with friends or loved ones, whatever feels replenishing and safe.
If you have any questions or hesitations about attending your first session, let your psychologist know. We understand how difficult this process can be and are happy to provide more information or move at a slower pace.