A First-Timers Guide to Therapy

I want to start by saying congratulations! I truly believe therapy can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it can also be really hard too. The fact that you knew this (or maybe you didn’t, but now you do!), and still chose to go down the path of finding a therapist already shows the strength you possess. This inner strength will help you as you sail into uncharted waters and act as a foundation for your treatment. Therapists are always looking for their clients’ strengths, skills, and talents, and you deciding to do this for yourself is not something to gloss over.

So now you’ve made this monumental leap but you’re probably filled with questions about what to expect. Every therapist is different and utilizes different skills and theoretical orientations, but there are some things that are pretty universal:


Most of what you say during a therapy session stays between you and your therapist. While there are exceptions to this due to legal and ethical codes (such as being a risk to yourself or others, child or elderly abuse, or subpoenas), this will be the one space in your life where you can be unapologetically you. Therapists are meant to be non-judgmental, so, while it may take a few sessions to build trust, this is the best place to work on issues that you may feel too uncomfortable to bring up with other people in your life.

Your Space

This is also a place that’s entirely about YOU. While some therapists disclose more about themselves than others, this is the one space where the focus is entirely on your problems, where you don’t have to worry about the other person “relating” to you and then turning the conversation onto themselves. For an hour a week, the world will revolve around you.

Therapeutic Relationship

The single most important tool a therapist has is the therapeutic relationship. This means that the connection you build with your therapist is the key to reaching your goals. After a few sessions, if you feel like you and your therapist haven’t quite “clicked,” bring it up with them and get referrals for someone else. We’re only as helpful as the information we’re given, so we won’t be particularly effective if the client is withholding pieces of their lives because they feel like they don’t trust us. Find someone you genuinely like and trust in order to get the best results.

A Microcosm

All of this being said, the therapeutic relationship is typically a microcosm of your relationships outside of treatment. This means that the communication patterns, boundaries, and behaviors you exhibit with other people in your life will occur with your therapist. If you have difficulty trusting people and opening up outside of therapy, it will be hard for you to do that with your therapist too. And that’s okay. It also doesn’t mean you need a new therapist, it just means it will take longer to build trust in your relationship.

Openness to New Experiences

Therapy on TV and therapy in real life aren’t always the same. You won’t be lying on a couch with your eyes shut. Your therapist will say more than “mhm” and “I see” during the course of your 50 minutes. Your therapist will not ask you “how does that make you feel?” every other minute because it’s too generic and could mean a lot of things. I find a typical therapy session to be filled with laughter and tears and differs each time. Sometimes you may be prompted to complete an art or writing activity. Maybe your therapist will incorporate movement. Be open to these experiences and give honest feedback after about how they impacted you.

In conclusion, I firmly believe that everyone should go to therapy at some point over the course of their lives and no issue is too big or too small for a therapist to handle. For those of you reading this and thinking that you don’t deserve the help, I want you to know that other people (such as myself) believe differently. No matter what you have been through in your life, no matter how poorly you feel about yourself, you are worth the help you are seeking. Hopefully by the end of your therapeutic journey, you’ll believe you’re deserving of it too.

Kate Burns is a therapist with Empowering You, specializing in eating disorders. She is currently running an outpatient group to support women with eating disorders. Please contact us today if interested in support