Some of you may be wondering what to expect during your first session with a client. In this article, I am going to share my personal knowledge and experience with you on this topic. There are two main goals for the first session–to establish a therapeutic relationship and to gather information.
The most important thing to remember during the first session is, simply put, to be with the client. What I mean by this is that you must focus on what the client is saying at all times. Do not try to think of what to say next. You actually don’t have to. If you are with the client, this will come naturally. It may help to tell yourself you are going to have a conversation with the client. During the first session, you will employ everything you learned in your counseling skills course. Using these skills will not only help you stay in tune with what the client is saying, but it will also convey to the client that you hear, understand, and empathize with them. In turn, you’ll accomplish one of the most important tasks of the first session. That’s right! You’ll build rapport and establish the therapeutic relationship.
At many agencies, the first session consists of an intake and assessment. Most agencies will have a structured intake form and some may even have a structured assessment form for you to follow as well; others, however, will want you to use your own judgement to guide you through the assessment process. If this is the case, you’ll want to make sure you prepare some questions to ask ahead of time. Some people choose to ask about the client’s family, relationships, support system etc. Some agencies will perform a risk assessment for every client while others will only do so when there is reason to.
As a beginning therapist, you may find it helpful to create a list of assessment questions with the risk assessment built in, but do not let that assessment question list take over the session.You guide the session by asking questions at the appropriate times– let the conversation with the client guide you. For instance, lets say I asked the client what brought him/her in to counseling and the client tells me that he/she came because they were having problems with their significant other. Lets assume that they stop a moment to cry. I’m not going to go on to the next question on the list which states, “how long has the problem existed?” Instead I am going to acknowledge the client’s feelings with a statement such as, “I can see this is painful for you to discuss.” That may get the client talking more or the client may respond with a simple “yes, it is”. If that happens, I’d continue to probe for more information i.e.,”can you tell me more?”
Whether it is provided by the agency or created by yourself, let the list serve only as a guide. If you are required to ask every question on the list, do so at the appropriate time. Remember your second goal, when completing an intake/assessment session, is to gather as much information as is needed to get a complete picture of the client’s problem.
I hope this article has been helpful to you.