“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”Abraham Lincoln
I love this quote by President Lincoln because it reminds us that preparation can have major impacts on our actions. Can you imagine chopping down a tree with a dull axe or worse yet, a butter knife? It would be painfully long and challenging work. President Lincoln encourages us to spend time in the present to prepare for the future.
Preparing for your counseling appointment is no different. After you schedule your first counseling session, the next step is preparation. Today, I will share 11 tips on how you can prepare for your first counseling appointment with a counselor.
New patient forms
Complete as much of the required new patient paperwork online before your appointment. This helps ensure have access to all your resources such as phone numbers and other information. Many new patient forms include things like emergency contact information, primary care physician contact information, payment authorization, and reading an informed consent prior to beginning counseling.
Having these forms completed before your appointment allows for you to relax and helps reduce the worry about completing a form in the waiting room before meeting your counselor. When these forms are completed prior to your appointment your counselor can also review to ensure nothing was missed and begin to learn about you and your story.
If you are a new patient of mine, please complete the consent and payment authorization forms online. *This link will take you to Great Lakes Psychology Group, where I provide counseling services.*
Photo ID and insurance card
Remember to bring a current photo ID such as a drivers license or state ID and your current insurance card. Many times, your counselor will make a copy of these for your file. Be sure to bring your current insurance card and not a dental or other medical card.
Many counselors will have their billing and insurance staff verify your insurance before your appointment. Having your insurance verified before your appointment lets you know whether your counselor takes your insurance, if they are in or out of network, and if you have any co-pay or co-insurance for the appointment. You can usually verify your insurance by calling the phone number on the back of your insurance card. IF you don’t verify or plan to insurance for your appointments be sure to ask your counselor what their private pay (paying out of pocket) costs are for appointments.
Reflect on your goals
As mentioned previously, counseling is goal focused. You likely already have a goal in mind about what you want to achieve with counseling, so begin to reflect on the goal. How long have you been wanting to work on this? When did it start to be a problem for you? Have you done anything in the past or recently to help reduce the problem? What support do you need from other people like family or friends? What would it look like if your problem was smaller? What would you be doing differently if the problem was removed?
Mental health screening
Take a free and confidential mental health screening for a variety of mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, or bipolar. These mental health screenings are for educational and information purposes and will connect you with additional information at the end. It may be helpful to bring your results to your first counseling appointment to discuss with your counselor.
Read up on areas of interest regarding your mental health on my resources page. Educational information is always helpful to better understand your current, past, and future mental health concerns.
Capture your questions
When you have a question and your appointment is several days away, be sure to capture it. You can write it down and bring any questions to your appointment. Another great way to capture your questions is to open a notes app on your phone and type it down and then bring your questions to your appointment. I always give several opportunities for new patients to ask questions during the first appointment. Many counselors, including me, have a FAQ section on their website, be sure to read this as well because it typically addressed commonly asked questions.
Read your counselors bio
Your counselor likely has a short biography on their website or Psychology Today profile. Spend a few minutes reviewing this before your appointment to learn about their history and experience. Many times your counselor will have a picture of them on their website as well. Being able to see your counselor before meeting them sometimes helps reduce any worry. If you have a question after reading their biography, be sure to ask!
Today’s technology makes it easy to locate and get directions to go anywhere. Before your appointment I encourage you to pull up Google Maps and plan your route to the counselors office. This will help reduce some worry of the unknown and lets you know how long the drive will be.
Sometimes its very helpful to bring a paper notebook with you. This allows you to write down important information such as things to complete during the week (homework), difficult thought patterns or emotions, any reflections on difficulty in the past week, and anything that went well during the week. Taking notes can serves as a good reminder of what you are learning from counseling.
Bring it with you
It’s common to feel anxious or worried about your first counseling appointment, this is normal. Bring those feelings with you to your appointment. Remember, you made this appointment because it was important to you. Your counselor is there to help you with these difficult feelings.
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I believe that you deserve more than ok. Ready to make an appointment? Contact me today.
Remember, no great misery goes unnoticed, if you are struggling with your mental health, be sure to reach out to a qualified mental health professional. If you are considering suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, call 9-1-1, or visit the closest emergency room.
Jeff Simms is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Board Certified Counselor in private practice in Grand Blanc, Michigan. Jeff works with adults that want to get better dealing with their anxiety, depression, PTSD, and marriage.