Seeing a Psychologist for the First Time
10/05/10 Filed in: Therapy
First, it's okay to be nervous. Just about everybody is. If you think about it, this normal because you're about to meet with a stranger to talk about your personal life.
If you're like most people, you've already begun to think about what you might say. And yet, even as you say it to yourself, well, it sounds crazy. You wonder, do you really need therapy, after all? And who says this process will actually help anyway; it's just talk, after all. How does talking help people? Can't your just talk one of your good friends?
Then again, you're tired of feeling the way you feel. Whatever the problem is, you're sick of it and you want it to go away. You're tired of feeling stuck. If the problem is serious, maybe you feel stuck and embarrassed or ashamed. How did it come to this? What will this guy think of you? Will he judge you? Diagnosis you?
So you go to your first appointment. When you arrive in his waiting room––is this the place?–-you see that it's not nearly as big as your physician's office. No one else is there. Just you. And then him, when he comes out of his office to greet you. He invites you into his office. Oh my, he actually has a couch. Are you expected to lay down? Is this psychoanalysis? If it is, this isn't what you signed for. He smiles. No, he says, the couch is for sitting. The couch comes in handy when couples come to his office.
So you sit down. Your anxiety has spiked a bit, especially when he asks you where you'd like to start. Hey, isn't that his job? Isn't he supposed to ask lots of questions...?
Hi. I'm Dr. Gibson, but please feel free to call me John.
Take a moment to settle yourself. A deep breath sometimes helps. And take your time; we're not in a hurry. Start anywhere. Yes, I'll help you with questions. (What's the problem? Can you give me and example of the problem?) My goal at this point is to listen to carefully to you to make sure I understand things from your point-of-view.
You may wondering whether I’ll think your crazy, bizarre, or abnormal. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: everybody has problems and issues, even psychologists. It's difficult to be human and not have problems of one sort or another.
You may be worried about whether I’ll secretly pass judgment on you, especially if you reveal some of your darkest thoughts and feelings, your problems, or stuff you done that you’re proud of. To the contrary, passing judgment rarely helps anybody. Showing compassion, however, does.
You may worried you’ll be “just another case of [x],” and that I’ll come across as too clinical. But nothing could be farther from the truth. My clients are people, not cases. They have distinct personalities, feelings, hopes and dreams, and yes, distress. I'm in the business of investing in people, in helping them create new possibilities. A case is something you study; a client is someone you help.
Although first session often feels unsettling, most people find themselves relaxing into it as we proceed. In part, this because they are putting their problems into words, and frankly, this can be helpful in and of itself because it often permits the release of negative emotions. But also, most clients come to experience me as an ally, a person who joins forces with them against their problem. Obviously I cannot do psychological work for my clients, but I do know the territory pretty well. I am a resourceful guide.
At the end of your first session, you'll want to ask yourself how comfortable you feel talking to me. In therapy (as in life) fit is everything. Not every individual or couple naturally fits with every therapist. You want to feel understood, and know that this therapist has experience with your type of problem.
Therapy is not friendship; it's a professional relationship that's asymmetrical relationship by design. Unlike friendship, which has a natural give-and-take, in therapy the focus is always on you.
Welcome. Let's make therapy a productive experience for you.