When you’re thinking about your first appointment, there are two “kinds” of first appointments – a consultation and an intake. While I’ve talked a little bit about this in What to Expect, I’ll cover both in today’s Therapy 101 post. But first, some things to consider before that first appointment.
How do you best work with someone?
Do you need someone who is a tell-it-like-it-is, or do you need someone who may be more gentle with those things that are hard to see? Knowing this will help you determine if it’s a good fit in working together.
What are your goals?
What are the things you’re hoping to work on while in counseling? Having somewhat of an idea (knowing that, hey, life happens and this could change) will help you and your potential counselor know if it’s a good fit in working together – does the counselor have the skills and knowledge in that area to help? If not, it will give the counselor a chance to give you appropriate referrals to point you in the right direction.
What is your budget?
Some counselors have a sliding scale (a lower fee to help those for whom the full fee would be an undue burden), some take insurance, some don’t do either. It’s really dependent upon the counselor. Counseling is an investment that you’re making in yourself, in your health and wellness. Your counselor is providing a skill set that she or he worked really hard to get and continues to develop through their work and additional training. Counselors also often want to make their services accessible to people, so know what your budget so it’s something you can talk with the counselor about if you need to.
Okay, so you’ve done some noting of the above and you’re heading off to your first appointment. What should you expect?
Many counselors in private practice (as opposed to a clinic or agency) offer a free 30-minute consultation. I can’t speak for every counselor, but with mine, it’s an opportunity for us to connect and meet, to see if we’re a good fit for working together. It’s kind of like a no-pressure interview.
What does good fit mean, anyway? Because therapists aren’t your friends, but they are people who are going to be working with you on potentially difficult things. This is where knowing what style(s) may work for you comes in handy. If you’ve been in counseling before, or read about some counseling theories (or the counselor’s bio on Psychology Today or their website!) you can ask what they focus on in sessions and how they do the work they do.
Consultations are also a great time to ask any major questions or share (very briefly) what’s going on. Note: You and the counselor won’t have time to get in-depth at this appointment, but will give the counselor a sense if they have the skills and knowledge to best provide what you’re looking for! Consultations are also the time to talk about financial questions, about insurance, etc., so that you and your counselor are on the same page from the very beginning.
If you’re “interviewing” with other counselors, let them know that! I encourage people to find someone they feel might be a good fit; if it’s not me, that’s okay! It’s way more important to find a good fit; your experience and counseling will be much more effective!
Your counselor may have information for you to fill out prior to your intake. Intakes are the time your counselor will begin to take more history (medical, mental health, medications, family, etc.) to get a big picture of what’s been going on and what you’re currently experiencing. Depending on the counselor, this session may be longer or take up to two full regular sessions (generally 45-50 minutes long). It gives you a chance to begin further discussing what’s bringing you in and starting to consider what might be helpful AND what your goals are. Your counselor should then talk with you about what he or she sees as being the major goals and see if you are both on the same page.
During this session (or the consultation), the counselor should go over informed consent (clarifying questions, letting you know what they offer, who they are, financial stuff, confidentiality) at the very least.
The intake can’t get ALL the information EVER, but is a good jumping off point to start your work with your counselor. It’s often a lot more question and answer than many sessions, and counselors vary in how they do this. As through the whole process, you have the right to share as little or as much as you want – just know, the more honest the information, the more your counselor is able to get a clear picture of where to go in counseling.
… and that is the next part of the Therapy 101 series – what to expect in sessions after the intake session.
Did I get everything? Is there something about intakes you really want to know about?