How to Start Therapy: A Guide for Those New to Therapy

Medically reviewed by: Erica Munro, MSc
Tuesday, February 6

There are many things that lead people to seek therapy. Perhaps they’re struggling with addiction, depression, or anxiety, grieving a loss, or simply seeking greater self-awareness — and these are just a few of the reasons why people turn to therapy. 

Going through therapy can provide you with the tools and knowledge needed to cope with difficulties or handle stress. It may help you with a specific issue you’re having, or it may help you make changes to improve your quality of life overall.

Deciding to seek therapy is a big step toward healing and boosting your emotional well-being. If you’re new to therapy, you might feel overwhelmed trying to figure out where and how to start. Below, we’ll help you unpack how to start therapy and offer guidance on finding the right therapist and getting the most from your therapy sessions. 

Understanding the purpose of therapy 

Therapy is designed to help improve your quality of life and day-to-day functioning, but it’s also helpful for easing symptoms of mental health conditions. When you’re new to therapy, you might not understand exactly how it’s supposed to help you. 

Some people may hesitate to go to therapy due to misconceptions, like fear of judgment or privacy concerns. Keep in mind that therapists must follow strict laws on patient confidentiality. That means whatever you tell your therapist stays with your therapist. 

Some people think therapy is only for those with severe mental health conditions. However, therapy has a wide range of uses. It can treat mild mental health issues or help people work through specific concerns, like trauma, relationship struggles, grief, and anything in between. 

Acknowledging your strength and courage in considering therapy 

While therapy may be highly effective for many issues and conditions, there are still stigmas surrounding it. Sometimes, there can be stigma and judgment surrounding seeking therapy. However, deciding to seek therapy takes enormous courage. It shows that you're willing to do what you feel is right for you — no matter what others think.

Seeking therapy also takes strength. You have to be comfortable talking about your experiences, exploring your emotions, and working on making changes in your life. Being brand new to therapy also means not quite knowing what to expect. It’s a whole new experience for you, requiring strength and courage to navigate.

Finding the right therapist 

The key to effective therapy is working with the right therapist. In fact, the relationship between therapists and clients has a greater impact on therapy outcomes than the modalities or types of therapy that are used. For example, a 2022 Frontiers in Psychiatry study finds that a strong client-therapist rapport leads to an overall improvement in client well-being and daily functioning. 

So, how do you find the right therapist? This involves knowing what your needs are. If you’re not sure, meeting with a potential therapist can help you determine your needs and treatment goals. What if your first therapist doesn’t turn out to be a good fit? That’s okay — you can always switch therapists as needed.

There are several considerations to keep in mind when finding a therapist:

  • Look for a therapist with a specialty or area of expertise, such as working with veterans or treating eating disorders.
  • Find a therapist who accepts your insurance.
  • Look for a therapist with availability that fits your schedule. 
  • Find a therapist who offers online sessions if needed. 
  • Look for a therapist who offers a sliding scale or other payment options. 

If the search feels overwhelming, know that it doesn’t have to be. When you’re new to therapy, SonderMind is a great place to start. We ask you a few questions to help determine your needs and connect you with a licensed therapist who offers what you’re looking for. This is a convenient and simple way to begin your therapeutic journey.

Online therapy vs. in-person therapy 

Should you do therapy in person or online? This depends on practical factors and your own preferences. You might be more comfortable meeting with a psychotherapist face-to-face for a more personal approach. Or you might prefer online therapy if you’re uncomfortable talking about your emotions and experiences in person. 

Online therapy may be a helpful option if you don’t live close to therapists or if you lack transportation. It might also work better with your schedule since you may be able to set up sessions outside of regular office hours. 

SonderMind can help you find in-person or online therapy based on your situation and preferences. We can help you find options for both, so you can compare and choose which option works better for you.

Cost considerations 

Your budget is another factor to consider when starting therapy. If you have health insurance, you might need to pay a copay for each session. Ask your insurance company what your plan covers in terms of mental health services. For example, your insurance might only cover a certain number of therapy sessions. After that, you would need to pay for them out of pocket. 

If you don’t have insurance, you can explore other payment options when choosing a therapist. Some offer sliding scales, while others might expect you to pay for services in full at each session.

How to prepare for your first session

You’ve found a therapist, and your first session is scheduled. What should you do now? As your first session approaches, there are a few steps you can take to ensure you get the most out of your initial session. 

Educate yourself on different types of therapy 

Therapy isn’t done just one way. In fact, there are several therapy approaches that are used to help people. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) involves working with your thoughts and behaviors. Other kinds of talk therapy or psychotherapy focus on other approaches, like accepting your emotions or processing trauma. 

While you don’t need to be formally educated on the various therapeutic approaches, having some basic knowledge may be helpful. Learning a bit about different types of therapy may help you gain insight into the therapeutic process. You might also find one that resonates with your needs.

Your therapist can guide you in finding the approach that works best for you. This might even involve a referral to another mental health professional who is a better fit for your needs if necessary. Remember that the therapeutic relationship matters more than the type of therapy approach that’s used. 

Set appropriate expectations 

Therapy isn’t a quick fix; it takes time to achieve personal growth. Whether you’re seeking therapy for a mental health disorder or to help with a specific issue, you can expect to work on your goals over the course of several sessions. 

Keep this in mind when setting expectations for therapy. Realistic expectations may help you get into the right mindset for making gradual progress. Unrealistic expectations may leave you feeling frustrated if you expect immediate progress or solutions after one or two sessions. 

Reflect on your goals 

What do you hope to achieve through therapy? Are you trying to repair or strengthen a relationship? Are you hoping to ease anxiety? Are there certain skills you want to improve, like social skills or communication skills? 

Think about what your goals are for therapy. Identifying these goals ahead of time means you can bring them up with your therapist during your first session. Your therapist may use this information to determine how to approach therapy in a way that helps you achieve your goals. Include any life goals you want to achieve along with your therapy goals. 

Prepare a few questions for your therapist 

Therapy doesn’t just involve answering your therapist’s questions. It’s also a good idea to prepare questions of your own to ask your therapist, especially before your first session. This may give you a better idea of what to expect from the therapeutic process and the approach your therapist uses. 

A few questions you may consider asking include:

  • What if my therapy goals change?
  • How long will I be in therapy?
  • What should I do between sessions?
  • What should I do if I feel like I’m not making progress?

What to expect from your first session 

Your first session with your therapist is known as an intake appointment. This session will usually be a lot different from the sessions that follow. In the following sections, we’ll examine what typically happens during intake appointments. 

Introduction and getting to know each other 

Your intake appointment is the first time you and your therapist will meet each other. As such, this session usually starts with personal introductions. Getting to know each other helps create a comfortable space for you and your therapist as you begin your journey together. 

With the therapeutic relationship being so important, there’s no rush to dive right into addressing your reasons for seeking therapy. Taking time to get to know each other sets the stage for a successful therapeutic journey. 

Discussing therapy policies and logistics 

Practical matters are another part of the intake appointment. During this visit, your therapist will go over these details, like the timings of your sessions and payment information. Other practical details your therapist will go over include confidentiality and cancellation policies. 

Initial assessment 

During your first visit, your therapist will spend time gathering information about you. This includes your background information and medical history, including any medications you take. Your therapist will also ask about the current challenges you’re facing. All of this information helps your therapist understand you and your situation more clearly.

Establishing a therapeutic alliance 

Trusting your therapist and building rapport with them is incredibly important. These are key components of a strong therapeutic relationship, which helps set you up for a successful experience with therapy. This relationship grows over time as you attend sessions. But the first session gives you a chance to start things off on the right foot and set the stage for your later sessions.

Setting goals and expectations 

Having goals to work toward is a big part of therapy. During your intake appointment, you and your therapist will work on setting therapy goals and outlining your objectives. 

For example, you might set goals to heal and recover your energy if you’re seeking therapy for depression. Or your goal might be to reconnect emotionally with your partner if you’re having relationship struggles. 

During your first therapy session, you and your therapist will also discuss expectations. Your therapist may help you set realistic expectations to help prevent you from feeling impatient, disappointed, or frustrated. 

Answering questions 

Your first appointment gives you an opportunity to ask questions about therapy, including what to expect and what kind of approach your therapist uses. You can ask questions to clarify any doubts you have about the therapy process. Or you might ask questions about the approach that’s used in order to understand it better. Don’t hesitate to bring up any concerns you have with your therapist. 

Navigate the start of your therapeutic journey easily with SonderMind 

You’ve made the decision to seek therapy. Now it’s time to begin your journey toward improved wellness. Knowing how to start therapy can be a challenge when you’re new to it. From finding a therapist to getting ready for your first session, you might feel a lot of uncertainty. 

SonderMind is here to make this experience go as smoothly as possible for you. At SonderMind, we’ll help you find a therapist online or in-person who can help you reach your goals. 

Connect with your ideal provider at SonderMind today.


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