Get the most out of this experience from the very start.

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During this unprecedented year, we've all been forced to reckon with our own mental health, and we were challenged in ways we've never been before. According to studies, 11 percent of adults reported symptoms of anxiety, depression, or both in 2019; as of January 2021, 41 percent of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression—there has been a staggering increase since the pandemic. But there is hope, and the best thing we can do for ourselves is seek therapy from a licensed professional.

woman speaking with therapist in office
Credit: SDI Productions / Getty Images

However, the thought of going to your first session with a new therapist can be daunting. That's why it's helpful to have a list of questions written out ahead of time so you can get the most from your very first session. To that end, we reached out to Dr. Adam Hibma, clinical psychologist, and Dr. Nisha Gupta, clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at the University of West Georgia, for their professional recommendations. And remember, feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of a first session is natural. "You may feel a 'vulnerability hangover' after sharing with your therapist," explains Dr. Hibma. "Know that this is normal and it's helpful for you to share those feelings during your next meeting."

Do you accept my insurance, and how much will this cost?

Whether you ask it in a preliminary call or during your first session, understanding pricing is important—you can't really work towards a solution if you're consumed by the thought of the cost during each session. "Questions about payment may seem obvious, but you don't want to end up in a situation where you think a session is covered by insurance and all of a sudden you're left paying a $200 bill," says Dr. Hibma. "Make sure you know ahead of time whether your therapist accepts insurance and how you will be paying for the sessions."

Can you tell me about your theoretical approach to psychotherapy?

"All therapists make meaning of psychological health, suffering, and healing in different ways," says Dr. Gupta. "It's helpful to learn about how your therapist theorizes human struggles, and if this approach is compatible with your own needs and views. Don't hesitate to ask them to explain what their approach (also referred to as 'theoretical orientation') means in everyday language."

What experience do you have in working with my specific issue?

"Some people come into therapy with more general concerns (stage of life issues, mild to moderate depression or anxiety) that are the bread and butter of any therapist's practice," explains Dr. Hibma. "However, some people have more specific needs (ADHD management, eating concerns, specific traumas, et cetera) that might benefit from treatment with a specialist. Your therapist should be willing to have a frank conversation with you about whether they are the best fit for you or whether you would be better served seeing someone else." Simply put, be sure you've found a pro that is a good match for your specific needs.

Are you accustomed to talking about issues of cultural diversity and social justice in sessions?

"Particularly for people with minority or marginalized identities, it's important to gauge whether your therapist will be comfortable exploring experiences pertaining to diversity and oppression as they arise in your everyday life, or specific to your psychological struggles," says Dr. Gupta. "Most therapists are trained in multicultural counseling these days, but it still helps to ask about their experience addressing sociopolitical issues in therapy."

How will I know if this is working?

"It's important to identify your goals right from the beginning and how you can determine if you are moving toward them," says Dr. Hibma. "There will be times in therapy when you feel like you are moving quickly toward your goals and other times when therapy feels more like a slog. Regardless, it's important to have a conversation about how you and your therapist can know if the process is working."

If I ultimately feel this might not be the right fit for me, how should I communicate that with you?

"The client-therapist relationship isn't always smooth sailing and, sometimes, both parties have to check in with one another if something feels amiss," explains Dr. Gupta. "It can be helpful to ask how to address this in the beginning. Sometimes, this will simply mean readjusting the therapy to better meet your needs, but other times it might mean addressing that this particular therapist might not be the right fit for you."

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