Most people considering seeing a therapist or counselor first want to know what to expect from therapy. As you might expect, the therapy sessions you see on TV are not an accurate depiction of what therapy actually is. Therapy varies somewhat depending on the type of therapy you are looking for, but beginning sessions are similar. Here’s what you can expect from your first therapy sessions, and later sessions.

What to Expect From Therapy: Now and Later

First Session: Have a Chat

Therapy is often depicted in television as a deep dive into subconscious fears and childhood experiences. However, this is not how therapy is done in the modern day, and especially not how your first session will go. After you find a find a mental health professional, you can expect to have a simple conversation at your first session about your life, experiences, mood, and day to day activities. You can be as honest as you’d like, and talk about as much or as little as you’d like. Your counselor won’t expect you to open up right away, as this process takes time and requires trust.

You should be prepared to talk about the reasons you’re seeking therapy, and what you would like to accomplish. It’s helpful to consider your goals beforehand. Remember that there are many reasons to seek therapy; therapy can be helpful with anything you are struggling with in your life. If you are feeling depressed, your goal might simply be to feel more optimistic about life. If you are struggling with a particular event, such as a divorce or death, your goal might be to get back to your regular routine, or to stop returning to sad or angry thoughts.


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First or Second Session: Talk About Expectations

It’s important to know what to expect from therapy the first time, but you’ll also want to discuss your expectations for the future. Your therapist or counselor will most likely talk about how long and how often you should expect to attend, and what progress would look like in your situation.

Everyone makes progress in different ways and at different intervals, so it can be hard to set benchmarks at first. You will probably discuss more specific behavioral changes or mood changes that will bring you closer to your overall goal for therapy later.

Second or Third Session: Make a Plan

what to expect from therapy session

During your first few sessions, you can expect to discuss a therapy plan. You and your counselor will most likely talk about what is the best way for you to make progress. You may talk about techniques you might use to make overcoming obstacles easier. Your counselor may ask you about your learning style and lifestyle, so they can help you make a plan that will be easier for you to stick to.

At these first few sessions, you and your counselor are getting to know each other, while also making a plan for overcoming obstacles. At this stage, you’ll probably know whether or not this counselor is a good fit for you. If you don’t feel like the situation is a good fit, be upfront, and find a counselor who is.

During Therapy: Do Some Homework

No matter what obstacle in your life you are addressing, therapy requires work and dedication on your part, as well as your counselor’s. You wouldn’t expect your doctor to keep you healthy or your dentist to keep your teeth clean if you don’t also try to. The same is true for your counselor. Your counselor can help you develop techniques that work best for you, but your participation is also necessary to make progress. Your counselor will give you tasks, reading, or considerations as “homework” at each session, which will help you develop skills or coping mechanisms you talked about in therapy.

At your first therapy session, it might be too early to receive these assignments. Or, if you haven’t considered your goals, your “homework” might be to make a list of these. Your therapist might ask you to make a list of things in your life you’d like to change or achieve. Your counselor might also ask you to make a list of habits or coping mechanisms you currently use.

During Therapy: Make Progress

If you’ve decided your counselor is a good fit, and your therapy plan makes sense, you can expect to make progress over the next sessions. This might be slow and gradual, or it may happen quickly. Your will most likely have set-backs, and these will be good to discuss during your sessions.

Making progress might mean you’ve started using healthier coping mechanisms, you’ve stopped dwelling or ruminating on negative events, you’ve started to manage your anger, or something else. Your progress might be marked by specific activities, such as asking for a promotion, going to a party, making a speech, or starting to date again.

During Therapy: Reassess

When you started therapy, you and your counselor probably set a time where you would reassess your situation and talk about the progress you’ve made. If you’re using insurance to pay for therapy, this might be dictated by session limits in your insurance. At this stage, you and your therapist will discuss whether or not it’s beneficial to continue therapy.

For some, it is beneficial to continue therapy in the same way as before, and to set another reassessment date. Others may find that they have effectively resolved their initial reason for seeking therapy. They might stop therapy, or reduce the number of sessions in order to stay on track. Others might continue therapy, but addressing a separate issue. There is no right or wrong answer, as long as you are making progress.

Now that you know what to expect from therapy, it hopefully seems less intimidating. Your therapist is someone you can be completely honest with, without having to worry about repercussions in your family or social life. Your therapist also has tools and techniques to help you overcome obstacles. As you approach therapy, be honest with yourself and your counselor about your current situation, expectations, needs, or any apprehension that you have. This will help you start out on the right track and get the most benefits from therapy.

Michigan Counseling Centers currently offer services in Bloomfield Hills and Taylor, and plan to expand our services to other communities. To inquire about or receive treatment, please contact us and we will follow up with you to schedule an initial consultation.