My first therapy session was beyond intimidating. Between the stigmas surrounding therapy in the Black community (aka therapy is for crazy people) and my only visual reference being television sitcoms, I was left unprepared AF. I'm sure I'm not the only one, and as comical as the relax, relate, release session in that episode of A Different World was, I needed to know the real. I've been in therapy for four years and overall, the narrative is shifting but many people are still left with questions of how to get started.
Here are some some tips that can help your first therapy session, and your relationship with your therapist overall, go smoothly.
1. Have a one-liner explaining what you're looking to accomplish.
It might sound like a lot to immediately pour out your trauma, but specificity is critical. You should go into your first session, clearly stating what you want to address. For example, "Hi, my name is ____, and I'm currently looking for help with _____" is a great place to start. If you find yourself struggling, take the time to self-evaluate where you are right now. Are you going through a break up? Transition? Lost a family member, generally in need of someone to help you sort through day to day life? The more transparent you are, the better they can help you (and you can determine if they're a good match for you as well).
2. If you have had a preference, do some research on websites that cater to what you're looking for.
Representation is imperative. According to an article on Self.com, Black clients are more likely to continue therapy beyond the first few sessions when seeing a black therapist. Still, for many of us, the search for finding a Black therapist, let alone one in network, is damn near impossible. If you're set on finding a therapist that looks like you, know that it might be difficult, but there are resources. Logging on to sites such as Therapy For Black Girls, Black Therapists Rock, and African American Therapist or apps like AYANA Therapy gives you an advantage. Don't sleep on Psychology Today either; there's a filter option where you can specify race, gender, and the area in which you live.
3. Keep your options open.
For more reasons than one, you need to remember that therapy is like dating - you won't always find the perfect fit on the first try. I would strongly suggest having a list of five potential therapists, and setting up initial appointments with all of them. Why? Because anything can happen. Years ago, I had a therapist I thought I was making great progress with call me another name after the third session - in a text message thread where my name was spelled out. Needless to say I blocked him like an ex on Instagram, but on my next try, I found someone that I worked well with for years.
One of my favorite episodes of Cherish the Day was when Evan and Gently spent the day seeing different therapists, and each one brought something different out of them - that's therapy. Visuals like that are why it always frustrates me to hear stories from friends who aren't comfortable with their therapist, but they continue sessions anyway. You have the right to advocate for yourself, especially inside the four walls of a therapist's office. If your experiences are being invalidated, leave. If you're experiencing microaggressions, leave. If you feel like your therapist isn't challenging you, leave - the door is there for a reason.
4. Ignore the people who will tell you all you need is church.
Church people don't know everything, but God does, and that's why He made therapists. I remember being at a party and a woman asked me why I looked so happy recently, and I said, I'm in therapy. Telling people I had a therapist wasn't easy for me at first, especially as a Black woman, so to share that, took a lot. She told me she could never feel safe talking to anyone but God in her secret place, and she didn't believe that she could be healed in therapy. Her response made me feel small, but thankfully my faith is strong and I know better.
Prayer, church, and therapy for me go hand in hand.
My journey has taught me that wellness like Black people is multifaceted - it should be free to take on as many forms as it sees fit. Therapy, candles, sage, crystals, and holy oil all have a place in my home. Don't let anyone invalidate what talking with a professional does for you, or tell you that church is all you need when they go to the doctor for everything else but what's going on in their mind.
5. Don't lie to your therapist.
Like forreal, just DON'T. Lying to your therapist is a telltale sign that you aren't serious about healing. I know that might sound harsh, but essentially you lying about your progress, relationship status, overall mental health, etc. is not only a waste of your time, and theirs but it's dangerous. You'll never be able to see the breakthroughs that psychologists speak of if you walk in every week telling half-truths. I had a friend who went to therapy on a weekly basis who neglected to tell her therapist weekly, that she was seeing a married man. She never experienced any real growth because there was a considerable portion of her life that she choose to leave out. Pain aside, owning your experiences even if they're challenging to recount is what therapy is for.
6. Get excited about becoming a better you.
I was so nervous walking into the first session that I never stopped to think about what my life would be like after therapy. My focus was on how embarrassed I felt of my choices, what led me there, and overall what my therapist would think of me (which are all valid feelings but feelings aren't always facts). So if you're feeling anxious when you walk into your first session, take a moment to see yourself in a better space, healing from trauma can be a beautiful thing, I promise you.
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