What to Expect in your First Family Therapy Session

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So you have made the decision to see a therapist. First of all, it is normal to feel some anxiety about your first therapy session, especially if you have never done therapy before.  You are meeting with someone who is a perfect stranger to talk about your feelings and discuss difficult issues that you are facing as a family.  This can feel scary for some people. Your therapist understands this and hopefully will be able to put you at ease.

What can you expect for your first family therapy session?

Who should attend?  Most of the time, the therapist will want to meet with all members of the family for the first session.  This way, they have the opportunity to get to know everyone at the same time and get a better idea of how everyone relates to one another.

Meeting your therapist: Your therapist will greet all of you in the designated waiting area for your appointment.  If you are a bit early, you can have a seat and wait until your therapist comes to greet you.  Often they will be in a meeting with someone else before hand and will come to find you at your appointment time.

Completing the paperwork- Once you go into the office and have a chance to get seated, there will often be paperwork to complete.  The therapist will already have your appointment form containing the basic information, but may want to confirm some additional details.  This can help to break the ice.

Informed consent- Next, the therapist will review the informed consent form, which is a document that explains the framework of therapy- the frequency and duration of your sessions, the rules about confidentiality and information about fees and payment.  The informed consent is basically the contract between each member of the family and your therapist which describes the way you will work together.

Getting started- From here, different therapists will work in different ways.  Some may have a structured questionnaire that they will go through with you to do a full assessment of your history and reasons for seeking therapy.  Other therapists prefer to work in a less structured way, opening with some variation of “What’s bringing you here?” or “Can you tell me more about your reasons for coming to therapy at this time?” and let the conversation flow from here.  The therapist will be interested in learning about each of your perspectives and experiences in the relationship as well as the difficulties you are currently facing.

In cases where younger children are involved in family therapy, your therapist may use different approaches to engage all members, for instance, creating a family mural or family sculpture, or through structured play, so that kids can have the opportunity to communicate in a way that may be more familiar to them.

It is important to know that there is no right or wrong way to tell your story.  Some people prefer to start at the beginning and go through their story chronologically.  Others prefer to start with the most pressing concern in the present moment and work backwards from there.  There are many different ways to approach your story and all of them are fine!

Here are some things your therapist may want to know about in the first (or first few) sessions

This information will help to guide your therapist toward the best ways of working with you:

  1. Your reason for seeking therapy at this time- the current struggles each of you are facing at home.
  2. The relationships between various members in the family.
  3. Your current home situation including relationships with extended family, children, work or school, and daily stressors.
  4. Your individual family histories.
  5. Past experiences you may have had with therapy: if there was anything about your past experience that was particularly helpful or not.
  6. More fully exploring your goals for therapy to understand better what you are hoping to get out of the experience.

Many therapists will view the first therapy session as an evaluation period.  The goal here is to get to know one another better and to see if you are a good fit.

With family therapy, most therapists will want to meet with the whole family together for the first meeting.  From there, some therapists like to schedule separate meetings with the different subsystems- maybe just the parents together, or the children alone to address specific concerns.  Others prefer to work with all members together.

The right fit?- One of the most important factors in therapy is that you feel comfortable with your therapist and that you feel like you are a good match.  Not every person clicks well with every therapist, and your therapist understands this.

Voicing your questions- Feel free to bring up your questions or concerns if there is something that you don’t feel so comfortable with or think that the therapist’s approach isn’t what you need.  We appreciate your feedback and your therapist wants to make sure that you get the best service possible.  Many times, with your input, the therapist is able to adapt his or her approach so that it may be more helpful for you, your personality style and your unique needs.

If for any reason, your therapist really doesn’t feel like a good fit, this is completely okay. Your therapist should be able to help facilitate a transfer to another professional, or if you prefer to contact our intake team to ask to be reassigned, we would be happy to help you find another professional on our team who would better suit your needs.