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What to expect when you see a Mental Health Therapist

Updated: May 28, 2019

Most people report feeling a little anxious and not feeling sure of what to expect the first time they visit a psychologist.  This is normal for most people.  So what can you expect on your first visit? 

1.  Most therapists work in an office with some kind of reception area.  Sometimes the reception will be manned and other times it won't be.  Some psychologists work from home offices.  Whichever you visit, most psychologists will ask you to fill in a form on your first visit.  This form will ask for your personal details like name, address, phone number etc.  It may ask for details of your Medicare number and/or Private Health Insurance details.  Some will ask questions about why you are attending your appointment, others might ask you to fill in some questionnaires to identify any symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress or other things.  Most will generally include an explanation of Confidentiality, fees and cancellation policies.  It's important to read these carefully so that you don't incur unnecessary cancellation fees.

2.  Once you have filled in your forms, the psychologist is likely to come out to greet you personally.  Most will greet you warmly and engage in a little chit chat to help you feel at ease and perhaps shake your hand.  They will then invite you into their consulting room.

3.  In the counselling room the psychologist might spend a few minutes introducing themselves and making sure you understand confidentiality and they might give you a brief summary of how they like to work.

4.  Once they feel sure that you are comfortable and understand the process they might begin by asking you to describe the problem that has brought you in to see them today.  The more information you can give them the better they will be able to begin to "formulate" your issues.  This means they will be thinking about what has happened recently as well as in the past to bring you to this present moment in time.

5.  Many psychologists like to take a personal history on your first visit.  This helps them to understand you and the influences you have experienced on you through your life.  This helps them see the world through your eyes and will provide valuable information to help them begin to create a plan for helping you.

6.  Towards the end of the first consulation the Psychologist will likely summarise what you have told them and then they may spend a few minutes explaining to you what they are initially thinking might be a helpful way to assist you with your problem.  They may also provide you with some reading or simple exercises or techniques to practise that they think will help, like journalling or breathing techniques.

7. Most psycologists will then suggest a follow-up appointment so they can begin the therapeutic process with you.  This is likely to be an evidenced based approach that is appropriate for your particular issue.  For example, Cognitive Behavioural therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Gottman Method Couples Therapy or one of the many others that are available.

At the end of this consultation your should feel comfortable with your therapist, understood and hopeful that they can help you.  If not, then maybe give them a couple more opportunities to connect with you and establish good rapport.  If you still don't feel comfortable after 3 or 4 consultations then feel free to discuss this with them, or go back to your GP and ask for a referral to someone else. 

The success of therapy relies heavily on how well you and your therapist connect or establish rapport so don't struggle on if you don't feel they 'get' you.

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