Your First Session with a Psychologist – Is There a Good Fit?

I have written on this topic before, including posts on how to set up your first session with a psychologist, and what to bring with you when you go.  But for today’s post I am going to focus on “fit.”  There has been quite a bit written on the topic of whether or not one has a good “fit” with their psychologist, and how goodness-of-fit affects progress and positive outcomes of treatment.  For this post I am going to focus on how to assess fit in the first session.

First contact. Different things are important to different people.  For me, prompt, courteous customer service is key.  Whatever your priorities, you can likely tell a lot about a prospective psychologist by the very first contact.  Do they use email? Have an answering service? Take phone calls only at certain times of the day and week? Offer online scheduling?  How do the logistics of their practice fit with your needs?

The waiting game. Some psychologists can see new people within a day or two, while others have weeks or months-long waiting lists.  What is going to fit with you? Can you safely wait to see someone until next month, or would you prefer to get started right away?  What about after the first appointment: will you have to wait another month for the next session?

The office. Once you have made the first appointment, and you are in the office – how does it feel to you?  Does the location feel safe? Is it convenient to your home or office? Is it a place where you want to spend time?  I don’t mean to imply that all psychologists’ offices should be perfectly decorated, but when assessing fit, it is helpful to keep the physical surroundings in mind.

The face to face. OK, now to the tough stuff.  Certainly not all psychologists are going to be a good match to every client.  Just like not all of your neighbors could be your best friends.  It doesn’t mean they are bad people or unqualified, it’s just that for this type of relationship it is important to have a connection that allows for honesty and vulnerability.  Do you feel comfortable with them?  Do you feel as though you are being treated with respect? Do you feel as though you could trust them with personal information? Do you feel like you are being heard?  These are just a few of the things to keep in mind during, and after, your first session as you are trying to determine whether or not you would like to continue treatment.

With all of the above said, it is important to note that psychologist’s are not there to always say what you want to hear.  Their job is not to make you happy at any cost, or be a “yes man” in your life.  Their job is to help you reach your mental health goals, whether they be to learn to communicate in new ways, deal with stress more effectively, or gain new parenting tools.  In the course of treatment, your psychologist may need to say some things that are tough to hear, or may challenge your ideas and beliefs.  And that’s OK.  If there is a good fit and an adequate level of trust, you will be able to hear these things, make some changes, and progress in your treatment.

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