You did it. You scheduled your first couples therapy appointment. Now what? For many new clients, therapy may be daunting because it is an entirely new experience. Perhaps the only exposure you’ve had with therapy is from a TV show or heard a friend talking about going to therapy. So you are probably curious, what may happen during your first couples therapy session?
Our practice is rooted in the belief that therapy is a respectful process. We want our clients to feel cared for from the moment they walk through our doors or log on to their virtual session. We understand couples therapy can feel intimidating. A skilled couples therapist will listen to each of you without judgment and with empathy. We know that relationships are co-created and unique dynamics are at play. It’s our goal to get as much information from each of you to get a full picture of what is causing you both discomfort and pain.
While each therapy practice is slightly different, there are general themes that you may experience in a couples therapy room near you. We’ve made a list of things you could expect in your first couples therapy session.
What to expect in your first couples therapy session
- Paperwork. Your therapist will have you complete intake paperwork, that will include items like a consent for treatment form that both you and your partner must sign. There will also be a billing agreement and basic information requested. You can typically fill out this intake paperwork prior to your appointment or shortly before starting your first session. Your intake paperwork should explain that your sessions are confidential, with some exceptions due to safety reasons (e.g., harm to self and/or others).While the intake paperwork is often routine, take the opportunity to read through the fine print in case you have questions or require clarification about how your information and session notes will be stored.
- Feeling anxious. It is a normal experience for you to feel nervous, anxious, or unsure. Those are natural reactions to new situations. Your therapist may check in with you and ask the infamous therapy question, “How are you feeling?” Share that you’re nervous; we are fully prepared to process your feelings as a way to better get to know you and to help you feel more comfortable during your first therapy session and beyond.
- 80-minute Couples Session. It is common practice at our office to schedule couples sessions for 80 minutes. We use science-based couples therapy such as Gottman Method Couples Therapy and Emotionally-Focused Therapy, we have found that couples benefit from longer sessions. As two people with different points of view, you have a lot to share; we want to make sure we give each of you the opportunity to talk about your perspective to help us understand your experience and to get to know your relationship history.
- Questions. We want to get to know you, the reason you and your partner are seeking support, things you’ve done before to try to address your concerns, etc. Common questions that your therapist may ask you and your partner during your first couples therapy session may include:
- What brings you into therapy?
- What specific thing happened recently that made you decide to get help?
- How long has the problem been a problem?
- How have you and your partner tried to address the problem already?
- What do you hope to accomplish in our time together?
- What would you like to see differently?
- How do you feel towards your partner?
- In what ways have you contributed to how the relationship got to this point?
- Expectations. Therapy is a process and will take time for your issue to resolve. Most likely, your issue won’t resolve itself in 80 minutes. You may leave your first couples therapy session feeling like you just scratched the surface. Your therapist may talk with you about returning on a weekly or every- other-week basis. In the beginning, it is important to come regularly to build the therapeutic relationship (i.e., develop trust with your therapist, tell your story, process your feelings) and to build momentum. Intermittent or sporadic sessions can leave clients feeling frustrated or discouraged that they are not making progress like they hoped.
- Goal Setting. During your initial session, your therapist will ask about what you and your partner hope to accomplish in therapy. You and your partner may have different goals; your therapist will help you both gain clarity on what you want to accomplish together or whether your goals are misaligned and how to move forward. It is also okay if you don’t know exactly what you want from therapy during your first session. The main point is, you showed up, you are describing what isn’t working for you, and you are starting the journey to figure out what needs to change.
What to ask your therapist during your first couples therapy session
Just as it is important for us to learn about you, it is equally important for your questions to be answered. Feel free to ask your therapist questions as you want to make sure that your therapist is a good fit and someone you can trust to support you. What are you curious about? Think about this prior to your first appointment and come with a list of your questions. For now, here are some that you might find helpful.
- What type of approach do you use to help couples? There are different models of couples therapy. We have selected two leading science-based models (i.e., Gottman and EFT) to help couples navigate, repair, and grow their relationship.
- How often will we need to schedule? We believe scheduling regularly and often at first – this will help us get to work and build momentum. Once you and your partner begin to feel change and notice progress, then we talk about spacing out appointments and doing maintenance sessions.
- Can you explain what types of assessments you use? We believe therapeutic assessments are helpful in couples therapy. There are valid and reliable assessments that allow us to gather a lot of information about you, your partner, and relationship to quickly determine the best course of interventions to help you reach your goals. We use either the Gottman Relationship Checkup or Prepare-Enrich (for premarital and newlyweds).
- Do you see both of us together each session? Ideally, yes. We tend to meet with you as a couple for the first session and for the next session, meet with each of you individually. This is part of our assessment process. After the assessment process is complete, we meet with you as a couple for ongoing sessions. However, there may be times when you might need additional individual time or perhaps your partner is not ready for couples therapy. Your therapist will discuss with you the structure of your sessions so you know what to expect.
How couples therapy can help
Therapy should be a collaborative process. Trust your gut and tell your therapist what you like about therapy (e.g., what is working specifically) and what you’d like different or what you need. Our goal as therapists is to customize the sessions to help you, so we need your input to help us know when we are on the right track or if we need to shift our approach.
If you are doing your homework and haven’t scheduled yet, but would like to make your first appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started.
We do not accept insurance and are considered out of network providers. We offer in-person and virtual sessions including free, virtual 50-minute relationship skill-building workshops. You can join couples from all over the globe who also want to improve their relationship.