What to Expect When You’re Starting Therapy

starting therapy

It’s a big decision and investment to start therapy.  So we want to give you a little information on what to expect so that you can go in with awareness and clarity.  


The first 6 sessions

The first part of therapy is getting the lay of the land. You are getting to know and trust your therapist and your therapist is getting to know you.

As a therapist gets to know you, of course, there’s the importance of gathering information about the problem that brings you to therapy, as well as your history so that what’s happening now has some context.

Your therapist is also starting to understand how to best ask questions and support you. Some people do much better with sharing about themselves freely and getting feedback, other people might not know where to start and require more structure and direction.

During this time, there’s also the fact that you are looking for some relief for whatever is bringing you to therapy. So your therapist might offer insights, strategies or skills to try, in order to help you start finding a way to get some relief. The relief is important so that you have the bandwidth to do some of the deeper work. 

The deeper work is the work you do so that the changes you make over the course of therapy can actually last rather than just being a bandaid.


At about 6 weeks

It’s good to do a check in about goals, how things are going, what you might want more or less of at this point. The relationship you have with a therapist is a relationship like any other, it requires mindful communication to be successful. 

This is also really important because it is an opportunity to practice having a direct dialogue about what’s happening in a relationship with someone who knows how to have that kind of conversation. Most of the time, when we have conversations with people in our life about how things are going, it’s anxiety producing and it’s usually about a problem so talking about how the therapeutic relationship is going is incredibly valuable practice.  If your therapist asks you about how you feel therapy is going or whether you’re feeling understood and your needs are being met, be honest.  You’re not hurting anyone’s feelings, this is the work.

Another thing that might start to happen as you get into the deeper work and you settle into therapy, is that you start seeing things you never saw before: things about yourself, your relationships, your work, your history. This happens because there is someone there who is trained to reflect back without bias and who has an education on human development and family dynamics, who is there to witness your experience and help you look at it. 

You might feel like things get a little worse right here. Nothing is getting worse, you’re just seeing more clearly. It’s as if you’re taking objective stock of what’s going on and what has happened. This gives you the opportunity to realistically see the cards you’re dealing with so you can play your hand in the best way possible.

As things are coming to light, hang in there. This is when the real shifts and healing start to happen.


Give therapy a fair trial

I would say, as long as you feel comfortable with your therapist try to stay in weekly therapy for at least 3 months.  This gives enough time for you to really see if it’s working for you. 

Three months gives you enough time to  start implementing and practicing the things you learn after you get a sense of the cards you’re holding. At that 3 month mark, check in, talk to your therapist about your goals, ask for feedback on progress toward those goals and what to do more or less of.

It’s important to give therapy a fair trial because you don’t want to try therapy for 3 sessions and give up because it wasn’t a good fit with your therapist, or you got triggered, or it was hard…and then think “therapy doesn’t work”. That would be like going to three workouts and saying you don’t have your dream body yet so working out is for the birds. LOL!


How can you be successful in therapy?

If you want to be successful in therapy you have to put in the work.  We’ve published some great posts about this. Check out this one and this one to learn more.

If you have a child, teen or are a couple starting therapy, click on the word that pertains to you for more specific guidance on how to be most successful in those situations.  

It won’t be easy, but if you can get into it with a willingness to learn about yourself and be open to change, the progress you see over time can be life changing.

What happens at the end of therapy?

Ghosting your therapist is an option, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The relationship with your therapist is a laboratory where you can safely practice skills that you need for successful relationships outside of therapy. 

So if relationship and communication skills is one of the things you’ve been working on in therapy, consider this your time to put the skills you’ve learned to the test. Of course, this will be easier if you and your therapist have had clear communication on progress toward your goals throughout therapy. 

You’re not there to protect your therapists’ feelings, so if you feel like you’ve met your goals or reached a stopping point for now, bring it to your therapist. Make a plan. 

It might mean you go down in frequency of sessions so you can practice skills in between and troubleshoot or refine once a month.  It might mean knowing that you can come back anytime. 

Having a clear conversation will make it easier for you to re-enter the relationship later. Your therapist will always welcome you back, but you might have resistance to reaching out for support if you don’t feel proud of how you ended things.

What I find is that the most successful clients in therapy like to stay once they’re reached their initial goals because they see how effective their investment can be, so they make the support a long term staple of their self care practice.  


If you are considering beginning therapy for the first time, don’t let the fear of not knowing what to expect keep you from taking that first step. It can be scary but the benefits will definitely outweigh the fear.  We will be glad to help you get started, contact us today!



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