Talk Therapy 101: What to Expect
The number of American adults getting therapy has steadily been on the rise since the early 2000s. And it’s no surprise. The last few years certainly haven’t been the easiest. You’ve probably felt a sense of relief after talking through a problem with a friend.
Talk therapy — also called psychotherapy — can be helpful like that, but it isn’t just about finding a good listener. It’s also about putting a trained professional in your corner. In the same way that you’d make a doctor’s appointment for a physical injury, scheduling a talk therapy session is a pathway toward effective treatment.
You might feel some nervousness beforehand, but knowing what to expect can help ease that. Let’s take a quick look at how talk therapy works and what your first appointment might look like.
Your first few appointments
When you walk into the room or open up that video call with your therapist, you will most likely be entering a supportive space. If your mental health professional is properly licensed/credentialed, they will have extensive training in caring for a diverse spectrum of people. They’re providing their time and expertise to help you.
What that looks like varies depending on what kind of care you need. Your first counseling session will probably center around pinpointing the issue(s) at hand. Most therapists will start by asking you to tell them about yourself. Then, they’ll most likely ask why you’re there.
Be upfront about why you’re starting therapy, whether it’s symptoms of mental illness, a difficult relationship, or challenges on your life’s path. Share as much as you feel comfortable. The more you tell your therapist, the more they can cultivate an effective treatment plan for you.
You might feel like you’re the only one talking during your first few therapy sessions. That’s okay — and totally normal. Your therapist is gathering the information you share, listening carefully so they can deliver the best kind of care for you.
Just like the conversations you have during talk therapy, the treatment you receive will involve you. Some people benefit from verbally processing and the mental health professional’s primary role might be to listen and hold space. Some people need specific tools and the counselor might suggest anything from meditation and journaling exercises to specific coping strategies.
Tips to get more from talk therapy
- Try not to stress. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like talking with strangers, therapy can be pretty fear-inducing. Remember, though, that the therapist is a trained professional. It’s their job to facilitate the conversation. Take a few deep breaths and let them lead the way.
- Give it time. Therapy can literally change your brain — so much so that researchers can see it on brain imaging scans. But, those changes don’t happen overnight. Stick with your counselor’s recommended schedule for appointments for at least a few months. You should notice the benefits over time. If you don’t, tell your therapist so they can adjust your appointments to better help you.
- If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. You might not click with your first therapist you try, and that’s totally okay. Give it a few sessions, and if you’re still not gelling, try someone else. The American Psychological Association has a handy guide that can help you find an appropriate therapist for your specific situation.
If talk therapy just isn’t your jam, that's ok, too
You can try other trauma-focused modalities — like somatic therapy. which is an approach that explores how the body holds onto trauma. Somatic therapy is designed to help release that trauma from the system and aid with recovery without having to dig deep into the story or memory.
Or maybe you want to explore holistic wellness practices like trauma-informed yoga and embodiment practices. Good news: both are free through SHE RECOVERS® Foundation and proven to help folks heal from trauma, mental health issues, substance use, and other related life challenges.
Getting started with therapy isn’t easy, but it’s SO worth it. So why not motivate yourself with some delicious cookie dough, and dig in after your first session? It will be a sweet reward for doing something ultra-good for yourself.