Your First Therapy Session

What To Expect and What To Ask

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Your First Therapy Session. Photo © Microsoft

Deciding to seek out the help of a professional who treats panic disorder can be a tremendous step towards your recovery process. Once you have located a provider and made your first appointment, you may be wondering what to expect from your initial meeting, what to ask your therapist, and how to get the most out of therapy.

Going to therapy does not need to be a stressful and anxiety-inducing experience.

However, most people are at least a little nervous about meeting their therapist for this first time. These feelings are natural and your therapist will most likely be anticipating your discomfort. A good therapist will try to ease your anxiety about therapy and offer therapeutic services with empathy and understanding.

The following are some tips and information to help you understand more about what to expect through your first visit and some basic questions to ask your therapist.

The Typical First Session

Before you arrive to your first session, you will need to clearly understand and set up the financial arrangement with your provider. Typically, this will be arranged when you call to make your first appointment. You may be requested to bring your insurance card or other financial information to determine your coverage.

The first session you have with your therapist is often referred to as an assessment or intake session.

This session will be different from the rest of your therapy sessions, as it is a time for your therapist to collect information about your experiences. Your therapist will ask questions regarding your current symptoms, family and medical history, and your overall functioning. These questions are asked to gather information to make an accurate diagnosis and to better understand your circumstances.

What To Ask Your Therapist

What are your professional qualifications? Knowing that you are seeing a qualified mental health provider can help you feel more comfortable and confident with your therapist. Typically, mental health professionals are required to be licensed in the state in which they are providing you services. Additionally, licensed professionals are required to pass state licensing exams and follow guidelines needed for competency standards. Licensure varies from state-to-state, but professionals who treat panic disorder and other mental health conditions are required to earn a degree in their field and have previous supervised experience working with clients. When a professional is licensed, you can be assured that they have the education, training, and competency necessary to provide you with mental health services.

Do you have experience treating people with anxiety disorders? Along with professional qualifications, it is necessary that your therapist has received training, education, and experience in treating anxiety disorders.

Many therapists specialize in treating specific mental health conditions, such as eating disorders, mood disorders, or substance abuse. Other therapists treat a wide variety of disorders. Regardless of whether your therapist specializes in one area or treats diverse conditions, it is important that they have an understanding of the treatment options available for panic disorder.

What can I expect in the next therapy sessions? For those new to therapy, it is not uncommon to have many questions about what to expect. Your therapist will most likely explain the therapy process to you at one of your first sessions. Your therapist should let you know about the necessary time commitment. For example, most sessions will run for about 50 to 60 minutes. You may also be required to work on your therapeutic goals outside of your scheduled sessions. Therapists may also vary in how long they will want you in treatment. Find out if your therapist will conduct therapy on a time-limited amount of sessions or will terminate services only after you have accomplished the goals on your treatment plan.

Your therapist will also use certain therapeutic orientations and techniques. This orientation is based off their training, education, and beliefs about how to effectively manage mental health disorders. For example, many therapists utilize the therapeutic orientation of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), believing that mental health can be better achieved by changing one’s thinking patterns and developing new skills and behaviors. A therapist with a therapeutic orientation of CBT may use role-playing, homework assignments, and relaxation techniques to help you manage your panic symptoms. Additionally, find out if your therapist can offer a referral for psychiatric services if medications for panic disorder are needed.

What are your office policies and protocols? When you begin attending therapy, it will be valuable to know about the various policies and protocols. Given the cost of services, you may first want to find out about insurance coverage, the possibility of a sliding fee scale based on income, and potential co-payments. Many therapists also have firm policies regarding attendance, no shows, and cancellations.

Working With Your Therapist

This list is intended to provide you with some basic questions to ask your mental health therapist. You may have more questions that arise as therapy begins. Your therapist should be available to address any of your questions and concerns. You will be sharing many details of your life with your therapist, so it is important that you feel comfortable with this relationship. A strong therapeutic alliance can help you feel supported on your way to recovery.


Sherman, C. “How to Go to Therapy: Making the Most of Professional Help” 2001 New York: Random House.

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