What to Expect When You Schedule & Attend Your First Session

Seeking mental health treatment can be a process full of many different emotions; while the process itself can be frustrating, scary and confusing, it also may feel exciting and hopeful at the same time.  If you have never been in mental health treatment before, you may have many different questions about what to expect as you begin treatment.  The information below may help to answer some questions you have.

How do I go about scheduling an appointment and what questions will I be asked over the phone?

Once you have been given a provider (or providers) you are interested in scheduling an appointment with, you will need to call their office to do so. Calling to secure the appointment is part of beginning the process of seeking mental health treatment. If you have received a potential matched provider from INTERFACE Referral Service, the providers will have been vetted for insurance, skill, and opening.  When you call, some practices may ask a series of questions (including date of birth, insurance information, and a phone number or email address to contact you).  Additionally, some practices may require that you complete their own intake form prior to coming in for your first session; they may ask to fax or email you a form, or may give you the website where the form is available.

If I have multiple options for providers, can I schedule an initial office visit with each of them, or do I have to choose one?

If you have a list of providers who you are interested in meeting with, you may certainly decide on scheduling an initial office visit with each one in order to help you make a decision about who may be the best fit.  It is important to check with your insurance company before doing this, however.  Most insurances will only authorize, and therefore cover, one appointment for individual therapy per week.  Therefore, if you plan on seeing multiple providers and this is the case, it is a good idea to space appointments out so that you are not having more than one per week; otherwise you will most likely end up being charged for the first appointment.

Will my insurance be billed for my initial visit?

It is recommended that you consult with your insurance provider (s) before starting therapy; this way, you can determine what your benefits are for behavioral health (including coverage, copays/deductibles and whether or not there are any limitations on number of sessions).  If you have behavioral health coverage and are using your insurance to see a provider, your insurance will be billed for the initial visit.  If you are not using insurance and have decided to pay out of pocket, also known as private pay, it is recommended to find out how much the fee will be for an initial office visit as well as sessions scheduled thereafter.  To learn more about insurance, please review our Insurance Guide for Families and Individuals Seeking Mental Health Services.   

Will I be expected to pay for anything at the time of my initial visit?

Most providers will expect that you pay any copay due at the time of your initial office visit.  Some insurance cards will list what your copay is; if it is not clear, then it may be a good idea to contact your insurance provider(s) directly to determine what the copay will be.  If you have a deductible, or your insurance coverage is only for a certain portion or percentage of your session, it is recommended to determine this before your first visit. You can then ask the provider, or administrative staff at the practice, if that is expected to be paid at the time of your first visit, or if you will be billed afterwards.

Will I need to fill out any paperwork during my initial visit?

You will be asked to complete practice specific paperwork at the time of your initial office visit.  This will likely include

  • Your contact information (address, phone number, employer)

  • Ages and names of people who are living in your household, any medication you are currently taking (including dosages and who prescribes the medication)

  • Any medical issues

  • The name(s), contact information, and consent to release information for any relevant support people (i.e. your primary care provider, probation officer, school guidance counselor)

  • Any insurance related information (including type of insurance, Group ID number, the name and contact information for the insurance carrier in your household)

  • You will also be asked to review and sign a HIPAA notification, which advises you of confidentiality rules and regulations.

  • You may be asked to complete some paperwork about what presenting problems have lead you to seek services from a mental health provider

  • Lastly, you will likely be asked to sign forms that indicate you will be responsible for payment if for some reason your insurance does not reimburse the provider or practice.

Do I need to bring anything with me for my initial visit?

It is important to bring your insurance card(s) with you during your initial office visit.  If you take medications, it is also important to bring a list of the medications, including dosages, you take and who prescribes them.  If you have support people (i.e. your primary care provider, probation officer, and school guidance counselor) it would be a good idea to bring their contact information with you.  Lastly, any relevant paperwork that may be helpful to a provider would be good to bring (any past psychological testing, evaluations, summaries from past treatment) if you have them.  Also, feel free to bring any questions that you may have prepared ahead of time that you would like to ask or discuss with your provider.

What can I expect to talk about during my initial visit? Will I have to do another intake and will it be confidential?

There is a lot of important information to cover before you may be able to discuss what has lead you to pursue services.  You will most likely talk about various practicalities, including office policies and procedures.  After completing initial paperwork, you should expect to meet with the provider who will likely begin by discussing confidentiality and limits of confidentiality with you.  Mental health providers are mandated reporters and by law are required to report certain information (including if you report experiencing thoughts about harming or killing yourself or someone else, or abuse that is being experienced by a child, an older adult, or someone with a disability). If you have any questions about this, it is important to ask them at this time, as there are laws that protect your confidentiality.  Providers vary by style, approach and technique.  However, a provider will work on getting to know you, including more about your history (medical history, family history, work history, legal issues, and any substance abuse issues).  This will likely occur over the first few sessions you meet with a provider.  The intake is not simply to gain information, but it is also a therapeutic process in itself, used to explore what it is you are seeking to accomplish as well as what lead you to seek services. 

If I am bringing in my child to see a provider, will I have a chance to speak with the provider during the initial visit?

All providers have a different style and technique with providing services.  Many times, a provider will ask a parent or guardian to come to the initial office visit without their child.  This allows the provider to speak directly to the adult(s) involved to get more information about the history of the issue(s) at hand as well as their perception of these issues.  Some providers will ask that the child is brought to the initial visit, however will ask to speak to the parent/guardian without the child for the first part of the session, and may also ask for the parent/guardian to remain in the session with the child (this may actually occur for several sessions, depending on the child’s age and comfort level with the provider).

Will I be able to determine whether or not the provider will be a good fit for me during my initial visit?

Deciding to begin mental health treatment can feel challenging. Some people say they feel confused, vulnerable or embarrassed.   Some people say they feel excited or hopeful and some report a mix of different emotions when starting mental health treatment.  It may feel awkward talking to a therapist at first, but this is to be expected and again, is part of the process.  The first several sessions meeting with a provider are really a time for the provider to gather information about what has lead you to therapy.  During this time, you should consider if you feel safe and comfortable discussing your concerns with the provider, if you feel like you can build trust with the provider, and also if it is realistic to be able to make consistent appointments with the provider.  For more information, please see our guide on How to Choose A Mental Health Provider. 

What if I don’t like my provider?

Providers are skilled in gathering information in order to determine how to best proceed with treatment.  However, sometimes we find that we just don’t “click” with certain people; this can be for a variety of both obvious and not obvious reasons.  If you head into your first session and feel that this is the case for you, there are options to explore.  It may be worth thinking about what it is that caused you to feel this way; is it the provider’s approach, the appointment times available, are you able to see yourself feeling safe and comfortable with this person?  It also may be worth considering scheduling another session or two to determine if the match could potentially work; this would allow a good opportunity to discuss your reservations with the provider directly.  If you continue to feel that this isn’t a good match, try not to get discouraged!   Research has shown that the relationship between the provider and the person in therapy is a significant factor that will lead to positive therapeutic growth.  It is important to feel comfortable with the person you are working with, so if you’ve determined that this is not the case, let the provider know and then look for a different option. If you have received your match from INTERFACE Referral Service, you should call back to discuss other options for a good therapeutic match.  Finding the right provider can take time and effort, yet the INTERFACE Referral Service will continue to work with you until you feel that you have a good match, and feel ready to begin the therapy process.