Taking charge of your mental health by going to therapy is a big step for anyone, but if you’re struggling with depression, it can feel especially difficult. The apathy, self-doubt and fatigue that can come with depression may make it challenging to get the treatment you need — but they can be overcome. Simply taking the step to reach out to a therapist means you’re on track to feeling better, and just a bit of preparation can make your first session a success.
A short introductory call can make for a successful first session
Preparing for your first session of therapy can be as simple as picking up the phone to get a sense of whether you and your therapist may be compatible. “Successful therapy is all about the connection with the therapist,” says Linda Garcia-Rose, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and psychotherapist who runs her own practice in New York City. “You want someone who’s going to talk to you before the appointment and ask if you have any questions before therapy.”
A brief call also gives you a chance to find out your financial obligations for a session. While using the Zocdoc Insurance Checker will pair you with providers that accept your insurance, you may still have to cover deductible or copayment charges. Knowing your obligations beforehand helps you focus on the session itself — not the bill.
You set the tone and the pace of your therapy
Therapy is a series of deep conversations with a supportive and objective professional — and that means the kind of conversations you’ll have is up to you. “A good therapist is always going to start wherever the client is,” says Garcia-Rose. “It doesn’t matter where you are in your depression cycle, it doesn’t matter how you come in, a good therapist will support you.”
That initial session is all about building a rapport and learning about your history. You may be asked to fill out an intake form, or your therapist may ask about your medical history, any physical symptoms you’re experiencing, and the medications you’re taking.
Your first session should also touch on what brought you to therapy and what your objectives are. Fear not — there are no wrong answers, says Garcia-Rose. If your objective is simply to go to the therapy session, for example, that’s absolutely fine. If you’ve been to therapy before, your therapist might ask what worked for you and what didn’t, so they can customize their treatment to your needs.
Finally, your therapist can answer any questions you have about therapy during the initial session, if they weren’t answered in your intro phone call. Writing down your questions beforehand may help you remember them — but if you don’t feel up to it, don’t sweat it. “You don’t have to think about anything other than to just come in,” Garcia-Rose says.
You may feel emotional after a session, but your therapist will make sure you’re safe
Going to that first session and opening up about your depression can be emotionally taxing, and you might feel any range of emotions after the session. You might feel relieved that you took the first step toward feeling better, but it’s also normal if you feel tired or anxious afterwards. “Whatever you go through is normal, there is no set response, ” says Garcia-Rose. “We will talk how you felt after this appointment at the next one.”
That said, a good therapist will make sure your emotions don’t overwhelm you. Very heavy issues, like the specific details of past trauma, probably won’t come up in your first session. Your therapist will get to know you, but you won’t leave emotionally exhausted.
Treating depression is a long process
Depression is just like any other medical issue — diabetes, high blood pressure, even a broken bone — and it takes time to feel better. So don’t feel discouraged if you don’t feel like you’ve made progress after that first session. “It’s a process: you don’t want to move too quickly and you don’t want to move too slowly,” says Garcia-Rose.
However, if you find you can’t build a rapport with your therapist, don’t hesitate to seek out another one. “People should know that if the connection doesn’t work, they should feel empowered to say ‘hey, this doesn’t work for me’ and go to another therapist,” she says. “But don’t give up.”