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There's nothing new or shameful about going to psychotherapy. If it's your first time, here's what to expect

It's 2021 and we're in the middle of an ongoing global pandemic—there's no longer any shame about going to psychotherapy because at some point we've all probably felt like we needed it. Scientific literature has pointed to the adverse effects of the pandemic on our mental health, and it's done so multiple times. In the United States, resources for psychotherapy are in high demand, and it wouldn't be too far off to say that it's probably like that in the Philippines as well. 

It's perfectly normal to feel nervous about going to psychotherapy, especially if it's for the first time. It requires us to be vulnerable in front of a stranger, it takes plenty of effort on our part, and it's also a financial investment for most people. Some may not feel like it's the right choice for them, but for those who believe that it is, consider these tips on what to expect for your first session. 

Read more: Why Mental Health Should Be A Holistic Lifestyle Priority

The First Session 

The first step to any psychotherapy session is usually all about forms or paperwork. Your doctor or therapist may require you to fill out paperwork asking about your background: family, education, and health status.

These are all completely normal and depending on your doctor, can be long or short. You may feel awkward filling these out as some of them ask very personal questions, but rest assured these are all intended to help your therapist better understand your circumstances. Make sure to answer these as honestly as you can, as these forms give your doctor a basic understanding of your situation and help to frame the approach they will take on your first session. 

Pre-pandemic, sessions were held in private clinics or even hospitals. These days, most will be done through online consultations on platforms such as Zoom or Google Hangouts. Some clinics or doctors may even have waitlists, depending on demand. Reach out to your trusted hospitals or healthcare providers to know which psychologists or psychiatrists can best suit your needs. Remember that psychologists cannot prescribe medication, while psychiatrists can

For many doctors, the first session will usually run about one hour and 30 minutes. After that, sessions usually go for just one hour. The first meeting deals with the preliminaries about your current circumstances and what brought you to psychotherapy. For some patients, it can be awkward. After all, being vulnerable in front of a stranger can feel very uncomfortable. For other patients, there's a sense of lightness after the first session, the feeling of being unburdened. 

Sometimes, people may want to seem like they're more in control of their situation than they actually are. In your first session, it's important to be honest and remember that therapists are professionals, they will not judge and will keep everything confidential. There is also no wrong or right way to feel after or during a first session, you may cry, you may get angry, and it's all part of the process. 

After the first session, your doctor may require you to return within a month, a few weeks, or just one week. It all depends on your current well-being. They may ask you to fill out more psychological questionnaires before you return, or assign exercises for mindfulness. On some occasions, they may also advise medication. Relate your feelings honestly and openly to your therapist if you feel you are ready for what they suggest. There's nothing wrong with turning something down if you feel you are not ready for it yet. 

See also: Wellness Tips 2021: How To Take Control Of Your Mental Health

Tips for Continuing Therapy 

  • Understand what it is. What some people may not realise is that therapy isn't just sitting on a couch and talking about your life. There are many different types of therapy that your doctor may use to help you. The most well-known is cognitive behavioural therapy where patients are challenged to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. There's also interpersonal therapy for emotional expression, psychodynamic therapy to increase self-awareness, and so many more. Research and explore your options along with your healthcare provider to know what suits you best. 
  • Be patient. One, two, three, or five therapy sessions may not be enough. For most people, it takes longer to work through the things that have troubled or traumatised them. Be patient with yourself. One hour a week will not instantly solve your problems, but allowing yourself to slowly see results will be incredibly fulfilling. 
  • Make sure that you are comfortable. This is integral to ensuring that psychotherapy will be successful for you. Make sure that the approach of your therapist is something you are comfortable with; alternatively, make sure you are comfortable with your therapist as well. Not everyone will be a good fit, and it may take some time to find your rhythm but once you do, it will be incredibly helpful for your well-being.
  • Be consistent. As with many other things in life, consistency is key when it comes to therapy. This means scheduling appointments if necessary, and sticking to prescribed medication if necessary. It may not always be easy, a lot of factors in therapy can be very triggering or scary. But carefully working your way through these challenges, and sticking with the process, will help with healing. 

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