Visiting a Mental Health Professional for the First Time
Preparing for your visit
A closer look at what you might be feeling and what to expect seeing a mental health professional for the first time
Why might you want to see a mental health professional?
Asking for help can sometimes feel scary. It probably feels like a big step. It’s really important to take that step and to get help if things are not going well. A mental health professional can help you work through whatever is troubling you and will work with you to find solutions to your problems. Talking with a mental health professional might leave you feeling less alone and like a load has been taken off your shoulders.
There are lots of reasons why you might go and see a mental health professional. For example, you might feel like life is overwhelming and like you aren’t taking care of yourself. Or, you might feel like it would be helpful to talk with someone about a major event in your life that is impacting your day to day activities in a negative way and just won’t go away. It might even be that you are concerned about a friend or family member and want to talk with someone about this who has more expertise than friends or family.
How you might be feeling or questions you might have
Before your first visit to a mental health professional, you might be experiencing a lot of emotions and have a lot of questions. You might feel:
Worried or scared
Here are some questions you might be asking yourself:
What will happen at the session?
How will I tell the mental health professional what’s wrong?
What if the problem isn’t important enough and I’m just wasting the person’s time?
What if the person thinks I’m really strange?
What if my problem is embarrassing?
Will the mental health professional tell my parents?
Should I just deal with this by myself?
Experiencing any of these feelings and asking yourself these questions is not at all uncommon. It is important to realize that mental health professionals are used to dealing with all sorts of issues, and that no problem is too big or small. Every problem is important. If your issue is affecting your day to day routine and is troubling you, this is reason enough to talk to a helping professional.
Setting up a visit
It can help to lessen some of your concerns by arming yourself with information about what your session might be like. If you do decide that you want to talk to someone, there are a lot of different services available. Check out the Counseling and Therapy article for more information about what type of provider might be right for you.
What might happen at the first session?
Talking to a mental health professional can feel pretty scary. Sometimes it is really hard to say the things you are feeling because you might be worried that the mental health professional might judge you. In the first session, it is likely that the mental health professional will want to get some general information about you. They might ask questions about:
How you have been feeling lately
What’s been happening in your life
How things are with your family and at school
Your physical health
You might also have to fill out a questionnaire or survey that will help the mental health professional understand what the problem might be.
The reason a mental health professional will ask you all these questions is so they can better understand what is going on in your life. It is important to be honest and try to say as much as you can so that the mental health professional can get a better understanding of your situation and how you feel.
Sometimes people feel concerned because their counselor or therapist doesn’t give them a diagnosis right away, but this is not at all unusual. A mental health professional will not give you a quick diagnosis because they’ll want to have a really good understanding of your emotional state and what can make you happier and healthier.
After your first session, your mental health professional will probably talk to you about what you would like to do from there. They might suggest that you come back and visit regularly, but this decision is ultimately up to you.
After speaking with a counselor
After speaking with a counselor you might have mixed reactions. You might feel calmer and understand your concerns more clearly, but it’s also not uncommon to feel confused, stressed, or sad after you have spoken to your counselor. This could be because the session has brought up some scary emotions. It might take a number of visits with your counselor to deal with this stuff. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to talk to your counselor about your reactions and the best way to manage them.
Tips to getting the most out of your sessions
Here are some general things you might want to keep in mind if you decide to see a mental health professional. You can apply these tips to your first visit and every visit after that.
Write ideas down beforehand. You might want write down some issues you want to talk about in case you forget them.
Ask lots of questions. It’s OK to ask lots of questions, especially if you don’t understand why the counselor or therapist is asking you to talk about, or do certain things. It’s pretty standard to “interview” your counselor during the first session, asking them what they specialize in, what type of therapy do they do, etc. It’s important you find the best counselor for you.
Go in to your sessions with a positive attitude. Keeping an open mind and positive attitude will help you get the most possible out of your counseling session. You might as well give it a shot!
Don’t be thrown off by note taking. Your counselor or therapist will probably take notes while you are talking. Don’t be put off by this. Often a mental health professional will write down things like names of people and events so they can talk about it with you later. He or she might also write down specific things you have said that are important. If you feel uncomfortable with your mental health professional writing things, you can ask to see the notes or talk to your counselor about it.
Understand your confidentiality rights. Client confidentiality is an ethical code that mental health professionals should adhere to. This means that your mental health professional should not disclose information about your sessions without your consent. One universal exception to this is if the mental health professional is genuinely concerned that you are at risk of harming yourself or someone else. There are other state specific exceptions about what a mental health professional can and cannot keep confidential, and the age at which a client’s parent or legal guardian is no longer entitled by law to information. It’s best to ask your mental health professional about his or her confidentiality policy and state law and regulations before your sessions start. In most cases this is something that your mental health professional will bring up as part of an initial meeting. Check out the Confidentiality article for more info.
Be honest with your mental health professional. Your mental health professional will try to help you feel better, but you need work with mental health professional and open up about how you are feeling and the things that are causing you stress and pain. It’s OK if you are having trouble finding the right words. This isn’t unusual. Sometimes a counselor or therapist will use writing or drawing, or other art such as making a collage or painting a picture to help you tell your story.
Don’t be afraid to change mental health professionals. Sometimes you won’t “click” with the first person you see (or the second, or maybe even the third). If that’s the case and you’ve given the relationship some time, it might be a good idea to try seeing another person. Just because it didn’t work with one, doesn’t mean it won’t work with another. Keep trying. To help you narrow down the decision to change therapists, check out our article, Is My Therapist Right for Me?
Don’t be afraid of your counselor. Remember that your mental health professional wants to help you. You can disagree with the person and question things if you don’t feel comfortable.
Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com