So, you’re going to therapy for the first time. That’s great. It’s a lot of work, but it all pays off in the end. 

Many people think therapy is just this thing you do when you’re in full crisis mode. But actually, that’s not true. Anybody can go to therapy, no matter what you’re struggling with, big or small. 

Why should I go to therapy?

Whether you’re dealing with a mental illness or are just having a hard time, therapy can help. Just some reasons you can go to therapy include:

  • a mental health diagnosis
  • serious life changes 
  • homesickness
  • feeling stressed with school or work
  • relationship or family issues
  • the loss of a friend or family member
  • learning how to cope in tough situations
  • learning how to deal with toxic people
  • overcoming substance abuse or addiction
  • eating disorders 
  • dealing with crises 
  • thoughts of self-harm or suicide

What are you getting out of therapy?

But why go to therapy at all? What are you getting out of it? Does it actually help with anything? Well, therapy actually has lots of benefits. It can help you understand your mental health better, figure out your triggers, improve your relationships, and cope with stress, just to name a few.

So no matter what you’re struggling with, talking it out in therapy is worth exploring. As a therapy regular (and therapy enthusiast) who’s been to twelve therapists in the last five years, here are a few words of wisdom to help you navigate your first time in therapy. 

Tips for your first time in therapy

It’s not just talking

When most people think of therapy, there’s this idea that it’s just sitting in an office (or being on the phone or zoom) and talking about everything going on in your life. While yes, that’s a part of it, when you’re in therapy for the first time, you learn how to deal with tough situations using different techniques and coping skills. So just keep that in mind during your sessions. 

Sharing is caring

Your therapy sessions are a safe space. This means you have the floor to share whatever you want. You don’t have to share your whole life story in the first session, but it’s worth talking about what’s bothering you. After all, that’s what they’re there for. And honestly? The more you open up, the more you get out of it. Therapy is a safe, comfortable, judgement-free zone, so share, share, share. 

Your therapist is not your friend

This just means that your therapist has a more objective set of eyes than maybe other people in your life. They can look at the situations you’re dealing with through a different lens than a person who’s actually involved, like a friend or family member. So rather than always agreeing with you (i.e. “Ugh what a jerk!”), they might show you a different perspective (i.e. “okay, but have you thought about where he’s coming from?”). It’s not exactly fun, especially when you really want them to back you up, but in my experience, having that outsider perspective can often help you grow. 

Do the work

Sorry, but sometimes you have to do homework in therapy. It can be worksheets, keeping a journal, or trying a new thing you guys talked about during your session. Pro tip: actually do it. Okay, confession time. With my first couple of counsellors, at first, I never did any of the worksheets they gave me. After a few more sessions, I started getting frustrated because it didn’t feel like I was making any progress. But once, I actually started putting in the work, it made a world of a difference. Point is, that therapy is like learning an instrument. If you don’t practice and put in the work, you can’t grow and get better. 

Schedule self-care after therapy

Now, this might surprise you, because therapy is kind of seen as self-care in a way, but schedule some actual self-care time after your session. Why? Because sometimes therapy can be heavy. Whether you’re talking about a mental illness or relationship issues, chats in therapy aren’t exactly light and breezy. Plus, you and your therapist might be turning over new stones and uncovering new painful stuff. So, take some time for you after your session to just decompress. 

Don’t get discouraged

Sometimes, therapy sucks. It’s hard, it’s painful, and it doesn’t feel like you’re making progress as fast as you want. You might just want to give up on the whole thing. Just know, this is normal. Even though it can be hard at times, it’s worth sticking it out. The longer you stay at it, the more you will start to see the benefits. Studies show that 75% of people who start psychotherapy actually start seeing results after six months of help. So it does happen. Just be patient with it. 

Find what works for you

Having said that though, sometimes you and your therapist just aren’t jiving. And that’s okay. Sometimes it happens. I’ve had some therapists that I clicked with, and I’ve had ones where we just couldn’t get on the same page. If it’s only been one session and it didn’t go well, try to at least go to one or two more sessions before you decide. But if it’s been a while and you’re really feeling like it’s not working, it’s completely okay to walk away. You will find a different therapist (or even a different kind of therapy) that will work better for you. 

Final thoughts on your first time in therapy

Therapy can definitely be a lot of work and it isn’t always easy, but its an amazing space for you to talk about what you’re feeling and cope with what you’re going through. With these tips, you will be ready for your first time in therapy.