After doing therapy for awhile you start to notice a trend in the questions and the concerns that clients have before therapy even starts. I am hoping to address some of those here.
Q: What does the first meeting look like?
Knowing what to expect when you walk into a new situation can be helpful and reduce anxiety. Every therapist has their own way of doing an initial session. There are some common elements that you will see at most therapy offices. I have outlined the structure we follow at our office.
- Paperwork: Therapists are required to maintain a certain level of medical records. To help them to do this they will have “initial client paperwork” to have you fill out. At our office, our forms include the following forms. First is the Client Information Form, which provides basic contact information and helps us to bill your insurance. The next form is An Informed Consent Form. Here we have outlined our office policies and included all of the disclosures needed to begin therapy. The final form is an Assessment Form. This form allows us to collect some background information and helps us to understand all of the factors impacting your life. We will then make a copy of your insurance card to be included with the other forms. One thing to remember is that even when you come in for couple sessions this paperwork will need to be filled out. Usually an Assessment Form is filled out for both partners. The information for only needs to be filled out for one of the partners and there is a place on the consent form for both parties to sign. You can access our forms here.
- Meeting the therapist: Now that you have the paperwork filled out, it is time to come into my office and meet me. Here you find a place to sit where you are comfortable and then I introduce myself. One of the most important parts of therapy is being able to connect with your therapist. Part of the first session is getting to know the office and the therapist. You being able to feel comfortable there is very important.
- Office Policies: At this point of the initial session I cover some of the office policies that were outlined in the informed consent forms. An example of one that I talk over with all my clients is the idea of confidentiality. I feel it is essential for clients to understand what they say is confidential and where the limits are. I also answer any questions regarding insurance or fees. I encourage my clients to ask me questions and I do my best to answer them.
- You tell your story: After all of the office stuff is taken care of and any questions are answered, I turn it over to you. Sometimes people don’t know where to start. I usually help by asking “what has led you here to my office.” While you are telling your story I will ask some questions to get clarification where I need. I also take notes so I don’t lose any of the details.
- Goals: The final part of the initial session is to help you identify what you want/need to change. This can help us determine goals for our sessions and give us direction moving forward.
- Scheduling: We end by scheduling our next session and settling any co pays or fees.
Sometimes clients struggle with the initial session because the main purpose of it is to learn what is going on in your life and what has led you there. Because of this, we don’t get to the “working phases” of the session. Clients sometimes report that they feel like they have just talked and haven’t fixed anything. The second appointment will feel more collaborative than the first. Time is an important piece of therapy.