7 Things You Should Know Before Your First Therapy Appointment

When my doctor suggested I see a therapist a few months ago, I resisted. “I’ll think about it,” I told him. But I didn’t think much beyond, I don’t want to retell my story yet again. It costs too much. I don’t have the time. And, most importantly, it hasn’t worked in the past.

In the last 20 years, I’ve seen a handful of therapists and psychologists, and I never felt like they helped me address the issue I came to see them for. Most of the time those sessions consisted of me venting or chatting about life. I could do that with my friends for free, thank you, Doc.

But with some more thought, I realized, maybe this could help me, if: 1) I find a therapist who specializes in my condition, and 2) I change my approach.

“A client comes into therapy cold and is expected to know what to do, but they don’t,” clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D., tells SELF. “There’s not much out there to prepare them for what therapy is like, plus everyone’s experience is different.”

And every therapist is different. That said, there are a few general guidelines that psychologists say could help make your therapy sessions more effective. Here’s what they suggest:

1. Don’t necessarily go off referrals.

It’s nice that your friend or mom suggested you try Dr. Jill, but does she specialize in what you’re looking for help with? Even if your physician gives you a referral, that doesn’t necessarily mean this psychologist is going to be the one for you.

When it comes to finding a therapist, “fit” is extremely important. So take your time looking through potential therapists before making an appointment. Use those skills you’ve honed Googling dating app matches or takeout places and do your research—checking out their backgrounds, specialties, and even their fees, Howes says. He suggests Psychology Today and Good Therapy as good places to start your search. Then narrow down your list to three or four.

2. Before making an appointment, ask for a free phone consultation.

Most therapists will…

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