What to expect from my first appointment?

So, what can you expect from your first visit to a psychologist?

What is a psychologist?

A psychologist is a specialist in the assessment and treatment of mental health disorders and while they are there to guide you through difficulties, it’s very much an active process. When it comes to a psychology appointment, three common treatment approaches are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Interpersonal Psychotherapy.

Research shows that although the ‘type’ of therapy you do is important, it’s the trust and connection you have with your psychologist that really determines the level of success from therapy. To facilitate trust, your psychologist should create a compassionate, non-judgemental environment that enables you to take the risk to discuss the things that you may be afraid to acknowledge.

How do I prepare for my psychology appointment?

Before you make an appointment, think about what you want to get out of the sessions and look at a range of different psychologists’ areas of specialisation. It’s important to know that you don’t have to see the first psychologist your GP refers you to – you can use your referral to see one that you choose yourself.

A few things to ask yourself before you head into your first appointment:

  • What do I want from my appointment?
  • What do I want in a psychologist?
  • What are the biggest challenges I’m facing right now?
  • What is my “end goal” from these sessions?

It’s also a good idea to have a list of questions for your psychologist so you can get a better overview of what your treatment plan will look like. This could include things like: How many appointments do I need? How often? Will I require any complementary treatments or therapies? Something else to remember is that it’s completely normal to feel nervous in the lead-up to your first appointment.

It can help to acknowledge to yourself that you’re anxious and accept that it’s ok to feel like this at the first appointment, but be assured that the psychologist understands that the first session might be difficult, and they’ll do their best to make you feel welcome.

Establishing boundaries

During your first appointment, you may be given a questionnaire that asks about your concerns and what you’re hoping to achieve from the appointment. Once the session begins, the psychologist may discuss the type of therapy they do. Don’t hesitate to ask questions along the way. Remember that it’s your session, and the psychologist is there to help you.

Part of the first session is to build trust and openness, and understand the motivation, expectations and fears the person has in building that connection with a psychologist. They’ll also talk to you about confidentiality: psychologists are not allowed to share anything you say to them. There are, however, a few exceptions to this obligation of confidentiality, which your psychologist should explain to you at the beginning of the session. If your psychologist feels you are unsafe, that information can be shared in order to keep you safe. Psychologists are also mandatory reporters if we think that children may be at risk.

Information gathering and creating goals

The first session is about trying to understand the difficulties happening right now, and later sessions might be spent looking across a person’s history and how it could be influencing their current situation. Together we’re trying to understand what’s causing the distress. It’s about people looking to find insight into what in their life and personality is contributing to their mental health deteriorating, so when those events come up in future, they don’t lose ground. We talk with clients about how we improve their mental wellbeing with them, so it’s an open partnership to define goals and carry forward therapy.


It’s okay to tell your psychologist if you don’t like part of the process – for some people, in fact, asserting themselves and being open about experiencing a conflict can be an important step!

Your psychologist won’t dismiss or disapprove of you, interrupt you or tell you what they think you should do. But they may occasionally guide you into territory that feels difficult.

How many sessions will I need?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to seeing a psychologist. While some people may only need a couple of sessions, others may need ongoing support to get through a challenging situation.

People generally seek help for mental health conditions with mild to moderate conditions or levels of distress. These people might just need eight to 10 sessions over three to 12 months. It could be that they’re going through a difficult transition in their life or a single episode of ‘poor’ mental health.

For someone with a moderate to severe anxiety disorder or major depression, they may need fortnightly sessions for a year or more to help them maintain mental health or to avoid hospital stays.

If you feel that you could benefit from seeing a psychologist for personalised advice and a treatment plan, the next step is to talk to your GP about getting a referral.