So, tomorrow is your first session with a new client. First, congratulations! Every new client is a new opportunity to assist and provide support to someone along his or her journey. Whether this is your first session with a new client or the very first session of your career, it is completely understandable to feel nervous or experience jitters.
Fear of the unknown regarding new clients can be intense. You may be asking yourself questions similar to these as you prepare to meet your new client: Will I be able to help her? Will he like my therapeutic approach? What if he asks a question I can’t answer? Will she even show up? The following are some tips to help you prepare for your first session.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath in, and release it slowly. Everything is going to be fine! If you are nervous or on edge during the session, that may be noticeable to the client and could affect your ability to build a proper rapport. Take some time the evening before to relax and do some self-care.
Think about some of the things you might suggest to a client who needs to de-stress. Take some time to meditate. Go to the gym and get in some exercise or yoga. Relax on your couch with a good book and some essential oils. Utilize the tools that help calm you prior to your session. A calm, cool head will keep you keep you focused and alert for your new client during the session.
It is very important to do your research so you’re well prepared for your first session. In my private practice, intake paperwork is emailed to clients. I request clients return the paperwork prior to the first session. The intake paperwork includes questions about the client’s therapy history, any medications the client is taking, and why the client is currently seeking therapy. Reviewing your client’s paperwork and any intake information you have prior to the session is imperative. Having good insight regarding your client and what is bringing him or her to your office will help you to prepare for the session accordingly. Gaining an understanding of why the client is seeking therapy allows you to begin to think about a treatment plan, interventions, and other tools you may want to utilize from your therapeutic toolbox.
Keep in mind, receiving and being able to review the client’s paperwork is ideal but not always possible. If you are unable to receive information about the client prior to the session, do not panic! The client will likely answer several of the questions that would be on an intake form during the session. Be prepared to listen carefully, be perceptive, and ask open-ended questions to gain additional insight about the client.
Remember, you are in your role as a therapeutic provider because you are qualified for the task. Be confident in who you are and what skills you have to offer. Let your personality shine! When you are confident in yourself it shows, and in turn the client is more likely to be confident in you as well. This is your first introduction to the client. What would you like him or her to know and understand about who you are? You may want to take some time to think about how much or how little you want to share about yourself during the first session.
Do you prefer to keep the conversation about yourself short and focus on the client? Or would you like to share a little more about yourself to break the ice and show the client it is alright to open up and be transparent during the session? There are benefits to both options. It is a good idea to be observant of the client to gain an understanding of which option may work best. If the client is very open and talkative, you may want to keep your introduction short so as not to stifle his or her responsiveness. On the other hand, if the client is reserved and quiet, taking more time to introduce yourself may help the client to relax and provide encouragement for him or her to open up.
Seek Supervision if Necessary
If you believe that your client poses an immediate risk to themselves or others and may need to be hospitalized, or if you learn that a child or elder is being abused, don’t be afraid to ask your client to wait while you seek out someone who can help. It can be as simple as saying, “excuse me, I have to step out for just a second.” A supervisor will be able to help you get your client the immediate assistance they need or take steps to protect someone in danger. While the odds of this happening in your first session are very low, it’s better to ask for help if you need it rather than to ignore a problem or find yourself in over your head. Remember: you are still learning.
Last but certainly not least, listening is one of the most pivotal functions of a therapist. Many people seek therapeutic services for the sole purpose of wanting someone to listen to them. I can recall my very first session with a new client struggling with substance abuse when I was working in a methadone clinic. I was so nervous! It was my first job out of college and I felt unsure of myself.
Did I have enough knowledge to work with people who were addicted to substances? How would I help them become clean and sober? Did I need more experience to work in this field? Needless to say, I was a ball of nervous energy before the session. I got to work early that day to do extensive research and read the patient’s chart from cover to cover. I wanted to know everything I could about her so there would be no chance I could be caught off guard by any questions.
When my client arrived, I felt completely ready to lead the session and handle any questions. As soon as the client sat in the chair she began to speak. She rarely paused throughout the session, and by the time I looked at the clock it was time for the session to end. For my first session with that client, all I needed to do was listen intently and provide the silent support that she needed.
In closing, I believe that as therapeutic providers we can often overthink and overwhelm ourselves regarding first sessions with new clients. Do not fall victim to unreasonable pressure to perform or set standards for the session that may be difficult to attain. Remember that each client is different, and each session will be different as well. There is no magic formula or set of instructions that will be a perfect match for every person. Simply relax, be prepared, be yourself, and listen. I guarantee everything else will fall into place.
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