How To Prepare For Therapy Session
Going to therapy marks an important step in your mental health journey.
While opening up to someone you don’t know personally can feel strange and even scary at first, a therapist will be able to help you make sense of your feelings and life experiences.
You’ll also be able to learn skills for coping with mental health issues and challenging circumstances throughout your life.
With that being said, you’re more likely to have productive and insightful therapy sessions if you go into them prepared.
But what does it mean to prepare for a therapy session, and what’s the right way to do it? Read on to find out.
1. Choose The Right Therapist
If you’re getting ready for your very first therapy session, the preparation process starts with choosing the right therapist for you.
Not every therapist is able to work with every mental health condition. Moreover, there are different kinds of therapy, from cognitive behavioral therapy to psychotherapy.
Before you choose a therapist, you should spend time researching different methods of therapy and therapists in your area to find one that is compatible with you and has a good reputation.
Your doctor may be able to help you with this, but it’s best not to rely on referrals alone.
2. Know Why You’re Going To Therapy
Before you start seeing a therapist, it’s important to understand your own reasons for going to therapy and write them down if possible.
Knowing what you want to talk about in therapy will help to ensure that your sessions are purposeful and move in a helpful direction.
When preparing for your first therapy session, try to identify what has led you to seek out therapy in the first place and make note of it, whether you’re struggling to come to terms with events from your past or constantly worrying about the future.
For future therapy sessions, it’s also useful to write down anything that’s been troubling you since your last session and anything you want to bring up in the next one.
3. Prioritize Your Concerns
If you have multiple issues you’d like to address in therapy, it’s a good idea to list them in order of priority.
This is because the point of therapy is to explore your experience in-depth, and it’s much easier and more effective to do this by tackling one thing at a time.
Anything that you feel you need to work through before you can live a functional and happy life should take priority over anything else.
4. Work Out A Timeline
A timeline including your mental health history and significant life events that are relevant to what you will discuss in therapy can be helpful to establish before your first session.
For example, if you feel that your anxiety or depression started at a certain point in your childhood, start your timeline then.
From there, include any times in your life when your mental health has deteriorated or improved, accompanied by any events (if applicable) that may have contributed to this.
It’s also worth making notes of any times when you feel that your mental health has specifically impacted areas of your life.
For instance, if your romantic relationship suffered for a period of time, and you think this may have been related to your mental health, it’s a good idea to write this down, with dates, if possible.
5. Know What You Want From Therapy
Knowing why you’re going to therapy isn’t enough to ensure productive and successful therapy sessions. You also need to know what it is you’re hoping to get out of therapy.
Your goals for therapy should be realistic. It’s natural to wish that you could make your anxiety or depression disappear forever, but this is not always realistic for everyone.
It is much better to start with the goal of making your mental health condition(s) manageable enough that you can live your daily life in a way that feels fulfilling.
6. Tell Someone Else
Before you go to any therapy session, be it your first or one of many, it’s a good idea to let someone close to you know that you’re going to therapy.
Some people feel embarrassed to tell people in their lives that they go to therapy because of the stigma surrounding mental health, but there is no shame in seeking help or talking about it.
Therapy is so important, but it can be emotionally taxing.
Ideally, therapy sessions should leave you feeling better, but it’s also very normal to experience a range of difficult emotions after talking about personal and potentially painful subjects.
If a trusted family member or close friend knows that you are going to a therapy session, they will be in a better place to support you afterward.
7. Prepare Your Therapy Bag
Your therapist’s office should have most of the things you’ll need for your therapy or counseling sessions.
For example, most therapists will have a box of tissues on hand, and you should be able to get a glass of water during your session.
With that being said, it’s always good to be prepared, and many people find that they are more comfortable bringing their own items from home.
If that’s the case for you, we recommend preparing a small bag with the things you might need during your counseling sessions.
A pack of tissues might come in useful, and a bottle of cold water is something you should always have with you.
Your therapist will provide you with any workbooks or activity sheets you require, but we recommend also bringing a notebook and pen or a binder to keep all of your therapy notes in one place.
Talking about your emotions can feel exhausting, and it’s common to feel drained after a session. A healthy, yet energy-boosting snack like a banana or a protein bar will help you to feel better on the journey home.
Preparing for therapy appointments thoroughly will help you to get the most out of your therapy journey.
Your mental health is as important as your physical health, so just like you would prepare for a physical therapy session by doing your exercises, bringing food and water, and wearing the right clothes, you should get ready for your therapy experiences ahead of time.
Remember to research potential therapists thoroughly, know why you’re going to therapy, understand what you need from your sessions, prioritize and make a timeline of things to discuss, let someone else know where you’re going, and prepare a bag of essentials to take with you.
Author: Michelle Landeros, LMFT
Michelle Landeros is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist (LMFT). She is passionate about helping individuals, couples and families thrive.
Last updated: September 24, 2023