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8 Things To Expect From Your Therapist

By Dr. John Mayer

I’m sometimes asked by people interested in having therapy, “What can I expect from my first visit?” Oftentimes, people ask if I’m going to ask a lot of questions about their feelings, or if I’m going to ask them to talk about their childhood. The truth is that it really depends, and that each therapist’s approach is tailored to the goals the patient has for treatment.

But while the approach to treating patients may differ, there are some constants that you can expect in your first visit.

  1. Welcoming – Your therapist should make you feel welcome, first and foremost, whether it’s a warm introduction or an ice breaking exercise. Your therapist should create an atmosphere where you feel comfortable being open.
  2. Establishment of a Safe Environment – It is essential for you to establish trust in your therapist. That is why oftentimes, a psychologist should express that they are here to listen. No matter what your problems may be, a good psychologist will be patient and understanding of your problems and use that safe environment to help you explore.
  3. Professionalism and Attentiveness – No matter the format, in office or through video, your psychologist should present themselves in a professional manner. Your psychologist is focused in you, and you alone. He/she should give you their undivided attention, because you are what’s important.
  4. A Discussion About the Problem – In your first session, your psychologist will guide you through a review of what is currently problematic for you, how it has impacted your life, what has and hasn’t worked to fix it, and what you would see as a satisfactory resolution.
  5. Expertise – Your psychologist should make you feel like you are in good hands. You should feel that your psychologist is confident that they can help. Often, a rationale for why the problem occurs will be given as well as an explanation on how the treatment will work.
  6. A Plan for Treatment – Towards the end of a session, your psychologist should give you a treatment plan to help your issue or condition. This plan will include action items designed to reduce the stress caused by your symptoms and increase your functioning in different areas of your life. Action items may be specific behaviors to practice, or even exercises and social interaction.
  7. Expectations – It is also important for your therapist to help set your expectations for that plan. They should help answer the questions of “what’s my prognosis, will I get better, and how long will it take?”
  8. Hope – Even after your first visit, you should come away feeling supported and hopeful that you have an expert to help you work towards achieving your goals.

All good psychologists, provide these elements to their patients, whether it’s a first time or longstanding patient. And while they may approach things in a different ways the objective is always the same – to help our patients reach their goals and lead healthier, happier lives.

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dr-john-mayerDr. John Mayer is a practicing clinical psychologist, author and consultant. A native Chicagoan, he received his doctorate from Northwestern University Medical School. Dr. Mayer has been providing therapy for over 30 years with the enthusiasm, passion and energy that drew him into this field. His personal, approachable and accessible manner has consistently resulted in exceptionally high ratings in such services as Yelp, etc.