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What to Expect in Therapy

Counseling at a desk.

Thinking about attending a therapy session for the first time might make you feel uncomfortable. You may think seeking care will make you look weak or others will lose confidence in your abilities. Know that reaching out is a sign of strength. Seeking care early can lead to positive outcomes that benefit you, your family and your unit.

Therapy can help you find new tools to manage concerning thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It can also help improve how you get along with family and peers. Learning what to expect can make it easier to schedule your first session. It is important to seek care from a credentialed psychological health care provider, such as a licensed psychologist or therapist.

Preparing for the First Visit

It’s important to prepare for your first visit. Use the DoD’s "5 Questions to Ask Your Psychological Health Provider" PDF trifold to guide you through your first visit. It includes important questions to ask your provider and items to prepare to make the most of your first session.

Assessment Phase

During the assessment phase, either your provider or a psychological health technician may ask about your symptoms and other personal information. This will help your provider make a personalized treatment plan with you. With your permission, your provider may ask to speak with a loved one for more understanding of your concerns.

This phase will cover topics like:

  • History of your symptoms
  • Overall medical health and any medications you take
  • Health of your relationships with family, friends and peers
  • Health behaviors, such as exercise routine and eating habits
  • Past treatment and outcome
  • Substance use, if any

You may need to fill out forms to help your provider understand your concerns, make a correct diagnosis, and prepare for treatment.

Treatment Phase

Next, after the assessment, your provider will create a treatment plan for you. This plan will address your concerns by:

  • Learning new behaviors to change your current behavior and outlook
  • Teaching new coping skills to better manage stress and reach goals
  • Changing thinking patterns to improve how you feel and act
  • Completing homework on techniques learned in treatment
  • Monitoring symptoms between visits

Therapy sessions are tailored to each concern and person. You may be asked to work on techniques learned in treatment and monitor symptoms between visits.

On average, sessions last about 45 minutes. They may occur weekly or every other week depending on availability and need. You may also see other health care providers to support your care depending on your concerns. For some concerns, longer and more frequent visits are held. For example, prolonged exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder may require up to two sessions a week for 90 minutes.

Maintenance Phase

Therapy visits will become more spread out across a longer period of time once your symptoms improve. This gives you more time to use what you have learned without the help of a therapist. Sessions may then be ended or held on an as-needed basis.

Remember, reaching out is a sign of strength. If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the DCoE Outreach Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants, call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also visit DCoE's "Seek Help, Find Care" page to see a list of key psychological health resources.

Related Topics

Mental Health

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