What to Expect & How to Prepare for your First Therapy Session with a Mental Health Clinician
by Kat Rowe | August 31, 2023
Our physical and mental health are run by the same rules. They both require exercise and practice to feel the benefits.
Guided by professionals (like your personal trainer or therapist) and with consistent effort, you’ll begin to see results.
It’s understandable to feel nervous ahead of your first appointment. The first step is always the hardest. If you haven’t booked the appointment yet, know that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
If attending a therapy session is on your mind – you’re in the right place. We’re going to run you through everything you need to know about your first therapy session, wherever you are on your journey.
What is therapy and how can it help me?
Therapy is a safe space to explore our thoughts, emotions, and experiences, guided by a trained professional who can help us understand ourselves better. Therapists help to guide you to see how your feelings, thoughts and actions affect each other.
They teach lessons about emotions, coping skills, facing fears and so much more. Over time you’ll learn more about yourself and how to navigate your feelings and build healthier habits. You’ll begin to build a life that looks more like what you want it to be.
The different types of therapists
Depending on your needs, situation and preferences, you may need help from a particular type of therapist. Here are the three main types you may consider, but there are many more types available to help you, which you can find here:
Psychologists specialise in the science of behaviours, emotions, and thoughts. They can diagnose mental health conditions and help develop treatment plans to help you cope or overcome your concerns.
A trained medical doctor with a strong focus on exploring the biological basis of mental health conditions. They can prescribe medication to help with more complex mental health conditions.
Compared to psychologists, counsellors adopt a more person-centred approach to therapy through listening and helping people achieve their personal goals. They focus less on diagnosis, and more on helping you work through the feelings you are having.
At Stride we employ various types of mental health professionals, such as:
- Peer Workers who have a Certificate IV in Peer Work or qualifications in other community services
- Mental Health Clinicians who may hold General AHPRA registrations as a:
- Clinical Psychologist
- Mental Health Occupational Therapist
- Mental Health Nurse
- Accredited Mental Health Social Worker
We also understand the importance of our team’s personal lived experience with their own mental health journey. Hearing from, and being supported by, people who have gone through a similar experience to you can have a profound impact on your sense of belonging, helping you realise you’re not alone.
How to book your first therapy session
- Make an appointment with a GP and select ‘mental health’ as the consultation reason.
- Attend appointments either in person or over the phone.
- The GP will ask you what your mental health concerns are and ask you to fill out a K10 survey for their records.
- They will assign you a Mental Health Care Plan which includes 10 free sessions of therapy and 10 group sessions with a mental health professional each calendar year covered under Medicare.
a. A Mental Health Care Plan is a support plan created alongside your doctor. It can include a referral to a mental health expert (like a psychologist), options, additional support pathways and strategies to improve and maintain your mental health.
b. To start with, your doctor will refer you for up to 6 sessions at a time. If you need more, they can refer you for further sessions.
- They will potentially give you a referral to a specific therapist in the area. Please note there could be a wait time, and you will need to check whether the therapist is bulk billing or not.
- Make your appointment with the therapist using the Mental Health Care Plan or the referral provided by the GP.
NOTE: If you would like to see a specific therapist or have found someone in your area that is suitable for you, you can request a referral to that office specifically from the GP.
What is the financial and time investment needed for therapy?
How much does therapy cost?
After you’ve attended your tenth and final therapy session fully covered by Medicare, it’s important to be prepared for the potential financial costs. If you decide to continue, Medicare may compensate for a portion of the cost of a therapy session.
Health professionals set their own fees, so Medicare may only cover some of the cost. The Australian Psychological Association recommended rate for Clinical Psychology in 2022 – 2023 is $280 for a 50-minute psychology session with the initial assessment fee potentially costing more.
Generally, you can expect to pay around $100 an hour for a counsellor for an individual session.
How long is a therapy session?
Depending on the kind of therapy session, it can typically run for 40 to 60 minutes long, but may run longer. While group therapy sessions can run around 90 minutes.
What to expect in your first therapy session
When doing something for the first time, feeling prepared can help us have a better experience.
Therapy is more than lying on a couch telling someone about your feelings, like you see in the movies. Depending on your reason for starting therapy, most therapists will spend time encouraging you to look inward.
In your first session, the therapist may be asking a lot of questions to better understand you, your situation and concerns, coping strategies, goals and expectations. It can be emotionally draining, so be sure to have an easy-going day planned and surround yourself with your trusted network for support.
As you ease into your first session, you might find the floodgates opening as you get things off your chest, this may be unexpected for you but it’s completely normal and your therapist will support you the whole way. Being open and candid with your therapist can be one of the best things you can do.
How to prepare for your first therapy session
Now that you’ve booked your appointment, there are a few things you can do ahead of time to help you make the most of your time.
Prepare questions for the therapist so you can gauge whether they are the right fit for you, such as:
- How do you approach helping people?
- Do you have experience working with people with concerns like mine?
- What will you expect of me in my first session?
You could also write down a list of points you’d like to talk about and your reason for wanting to start therapy. Formulating your thoughts beforehand can be helpful to calm nerves and give you a sense of control.
What if I don’t click with my first therapist?
If you don’t think your therapy sessions aren’t working, there could be a few reasons. It might be because it is hard to talk about what’s on your mind, or it might be that you and your therapist are not the right fit.
You have the right to be involved in the decision-making about your care and the right to work with someone you feel connected with. It’s okay to seek alternative support or ask to see another therapist if you want to.
Take the next step
Therapy is not a quick fix, you have to play the long game to see the benefits. The fact that you’re here, seeking advice and help is proof that you’re on the right path.
If you want a little extra support before or after your first therapy session – or need help booking your first one – don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our drop-in support centres.