Many parents ask me how they can prepare their child for their first counselling appointment. My typical response is that I suggest that parents have a chat with their child prior to coming so that they are ready to discuss what they are hoping to target in therapy OR what they are most concerned about. Adults often struggle to prepare themselves before their first appointment as well. Children and teens are not much different from adults in that they like to know what is going to happen before they willingly walk into a new situation. The first time I meet with a new client, I will ask about challenges and difficulties BUT it is just as important for me to learn about strengths and what is going well in a person’s life. Having a discussion in advance can help your child to feel comfortable and get the most out of their first session.
Here are a few tips for how to prepare for your first appointment:
1. What is your goal? Children and adults access therapy for a variety of reasons but generally speaking it is usually because there is a problem or worry or that is causing difficulties in a person’s life. Exposure to a traumatic life event, ongoing challenges with anxiety, difficulty getting along with peers, trouble fulfilling your responsibilities due to overwhelming stress-you name it. The reason for reaching out can differ from person to person. No matter how much or how little this problem is causing in your life, it is important to try to think about what your would like to see differently in your current situation. What would you like to feel less of? What would you like to feel more of? What changes would you like to work toward? What would your life be like if this problem was not an issue for you right now? These are a few questions to ask yourself or discuss with your child in advance of your first session.
2. Take a look online. My website and social media pages have a lot of pictures and information about my approach to therapy. If you are like me, you appreciate a good heads up about where you are going and who you will see when you are there. Share my pictures with your child so that they can have a visual of who they will be meeting with.
3. Transitional items-Do you or your child have something that they like to keep with them for times when they feel anxious or lonely? Are you or your child a fidgety person who likes/needs to move around? Feel free to bring any items with you if you feel it will help you or your child to feel comfortable. Bringing an item of importance, like a picture or stuffy will also help me get to know you. If you do not have anything or do not want to bring anything with you that’s perfectly fine too--I have TONS of things to fidget and play with while you are here.
4. Plan ahead-A first counselling session can be overwhelming and draining. Try to avoid making any important plans after this session in the event that you or your child is particularly triggered or tired at the end of their appointment. At best, make plans to do something that you/your child enjoys such a watching a favourite show, picking your/their favourite dessert or protecting time to talk about any thoughts or feelings with someone you trust. If you are an adult, consider how you might engage in some self care after your appointment.