Preparing for Counseling
So, you’ve been toying with the idea of talking to a counselor. Maybe you’ve decided and already scheduled an appointment, or maybe you’re still on the fence. Beginning counseling can be a tremendous first step on the journey to self-discovery, personal growth, and meeting your goals. It can also be a little intimidating, so allow this blog to assuage some of your angst (if you have any) by providing you with information about what to expect from your first session, as well as tips on how to prepare yourself. For a more in depth look at the treatment process, check out our session by session breakdown of the counseling process.
What to do before the first appointment
Unfortunately, just like any doctor’s office or medical appointment you go to, your first therapy appointment comes with formalities and paperwork. At Angelus, we try to minimize how much of your first appointment is taken up by this process by having you review and complete all of our paperwork, policies, and procedures ahead of time in your patient portal. But it is important for us to touch on these verbally with you as well to ensure you have given informed consent and understand how the process works. You can expedite this process by really reading through the paperwork as you are completing it and come prepared for your intake with any questions or concerns you may have. The basics such as confidentiality, scheduling, cancellations, and billing aren’t exciting but are a necessary part of the treatment process, so please read through these carefully.
It can be very beneficial and is strongly encouraged for you to reach out to your health insurance company yourself before your appointment to make sure you understand your coverage and responsibilities for counseling appointments. Copays, deductibles, and coinsurances are all determined by the insurance companies and can often be quite confusing. As such, we ALWAYS recommend that when you talk to your insurance company you take down the person’s name you are talking to, the info they gave you, the time and date of the call, and a “reference number” just in case your benefits don’t pay out the way they explained. We can double check your benefits for you as a courtesy, but please keep in mind that we do not have any control over your benefits/coverage and you are fully responsible for any accumulated out of pocket amounts (copays, deductibles, and coinsurances).
The First Session
You know yourself better than anyone else (for now 😉). The first session or two will be spent getting to know you better by getting an in-depth view of your history and background, details about what led you to seek counseling, and exploring & solidifying some preliminary goals you may have for yourself. This session won’t be like a typical counseling session because your therapist may be doing more talking than they normally would—expect to be able to take the lead a bit more in future sessions 😊. The counseling process can be very much like putting together a puzzle. This first couple of appointments involve trying to find all the outside pieces and create a frame to work within. As you go on with counseling, you will be filling in different sections and a picture will start to develop. You may get stuck and frustrated at times, but the more pieces you find a fit for, the easier the overall process will become.
things to consider and make notes on before your intake session
- What goals do you have for yourself?
- How will you know if you’ve met them?
- How have you tried to meet them in the past?
- What are you willing to do/try differently?
- What do you think has contributed to your current desire to seek counseling?
- How are you taking care of yourself?
Realistic Expectations: “Feeling Better”
When can I expect to feel better?
This is a complicated question. Feeling better looks different for everyone and often necessitates an honest thorough look at your environment, thoughts, behaviors, and shifting any and all of these things as needed. People are creatures of habit, and these things take time. Maybe it will take a substantial amount of time depending on what’s going on in your life and what you would like to work on. For example, working through trauma may take months to years for one person, whereas processing anxiety about a particularly upcoming event and planning to manage anxiety during it may take someone else only a handful of sessions. There is no one size fits all prescription for what each person will needs, and it is imperative you keep your mindset flexible regarding timelines and expectations.
While therapists are fabulous, they aren’t magicians. Coming in once a week to process feelings and learn skills can be very therapeutic and helpful, but a lot of the work that leads to sustained change toward your goals happens in between sessions. That is the time where you are actively working to practice and apply what you have learned during sessions to your day-to-day life. Some things you practice will really help, others may not, but it will be a practice of endurance to match all the pieces to where they best fit.
Ways you can improve your outcomes in counseling
- Depending on your goal, expect to commit to at least 6-8 weekly sessions
- Keeping a written list of things to discuss in your sessions can be super helpful and ensure you get the most out of your treatment
- Speak up! Whether it is designing the treatment plan, building skills, or processing losses, YOUR voice, YOUR thoughts, and YOUR experiences are extremely important and need to be heard for any changes to occur
- Therapists can certainly help with this because you may not know why you are feeling so low, for example, and that’s ok, but coming with ideas can be a big help to jumpstart the process
- Expect to do work in between sessions; this could mean completing written assignments or applying skills or techniques discussed in your appointment. The more work you put in, the more rewards you can get out of it
- Be proactive/coming to session with homework completed or an idea about what you would like to focus on for the day can really help to maximize your time
- Try to be open-minded about the process and provide feedback to your therapist along the way. This is a joint venture.
Prepare Yourself Mentally
There is some truth to the idea that things may get worse before they get better. We don’t say this to scare you off, but to be realistic. Therapy can be intense. You may uncover things that you hadn’t planned on, or meant to. You may recognize something that will lead you to make changes that you hadn’t even come to therapy for! This could include recognizing that certain people in your life aren’t healthy to be around, among many other things. You may get angry with others, at yourself, by allowing yourself to accept previously denied truths. Big and wonderful changes can come from hard work in therapy, but that can be what it feels like: Hard work.
Tips to help take care of yourself throughout the process
- Plan something enjoyable or some self-care activity after a session
- Journal about your newfound insights or tell a trusted friend
- Have and use a “therapy notebook” to write down those insights during your appointment. There is a lot being talked about in there, it is OK to take notes!
- Be patient with yourself and your therapist
- Try to be open to suggestions and feedback from your therapist
- Give feedback to the therapist about how the process is going for you
- Expect to have treatment reviews/check ins about how progress is going
- Allow yourself to have set-backs
- Expect to feel disillusioned, frustrated, and even stuck at times
- Don’t GIVE UP!
Above all else, remember therapists are not there to “fix” you or your life. We don’t view you as fundamentally broken or flawed. It’s you, not us, that will be making the needed shifts to get you to where you want to be. We can point out blind spots, road blocks, or other things that could impede your process, but ultimately the change in your life is your responsibility. That can be frightening, maddening, and empowering all at the same time. And we’re here for you throughout.
Come “See” Us!
Even though telehealth has become the “new normal,” we remain here to support you in the safest way possible at this time. If you find yourself with more time on your hands due to the pandemic—maybe having extra hours in your day due to not having to commute, or you’ve discovered new stressors during quarantine, this may be the perfect time to invest time and energy into yourself and your wellbeing. Schedule an appointment with an Angelus therapist today to begin your journey and allowing us to help support you in meeting your goals.
Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, LPC, PhD