When we first meet a new potential client for The Initial Psych Consultation (‘psych consult’ for short) at Explore What’s Next, whether they are depressed, anxious, or a combination of both, they often come to me exhausted and vulnerable, after weeks or months of emotionally running on a treadmill; going nowhere, no traction. They struggle in an effort to tell their complex story in 30 minutes or so to a complete stranger. The fear, the vulnerability, the hope is laid bare. My heart goes out to them.
The Initial Psych Consult is defined as the first meeting between a therapist and a person seeking services for the purpose of deciding if they have the potential of working successfully together. My job at this meeting is simple. I want you to feel safe and cared for. How do I do that? There are six ways I can think of right now. I may add more later.
The Initial Psych Consult Goals
1. Create an inviting, comfortable environment. This starts even before you come to my office or we have our first video chat session. When you call or email us, you will be answered by a qualified therapist, not an answering service or receptionist – you have direct contact. When you step foot in our offices we provide a soothing, relaxing environment right when you walk in the door.
2. Introduce myself with a smile and a handshake. Being a professional does not mean being dour. Being serious doesn’t mean frowning all the time. At Explore What’s Next we like to smile and laugh.
3. Offer refreshment. I usually have a beverage on my side table, coffee, tea or water. I’ll be damned if I am going to drink something without offering you the same. Maybe you already took advantage of the Keurig in the waiting area, brought you own from a local café or have your own water bottle. That’s all fine. If we are on video chat I can’t offer you a cup of whatever, but I do want to be assured you are as comfortable as possible before we move on.
All of the above takes about five minutes. Once we go into my office and I invite you to have a seat on my comfy sofa I…
4. Ask if you have ever seen a counselor before. Getting pre-judgments out of the way early is helpful. If you have seen a therapist before seeing me, that experience could be casting a shadow, good or bad, over this experience. If you have never seen a therapist before, I want you to know there is no mystery to the process. I have a skill set and expertise that you have come to take advantage of. You are the expert in yourself and come with the motivation to change whatever is weighing on you. You are the doer; I am the guide.
5. Listen to your story. This is our first meeting, I don’t expect all the details. In fact it’s probably more important that you understand that while I want to hear anything you want to tell me, I know it takes time to build the kind of trust worthy of hearing everything. You may have trouble knowing where to start; I can help with that. I will ask you questions like, how did you find me? And it goes both ways. I will invite you to ask me any questions you like.
6. Do not charge for the first meeting. This simple fact saves a lot of distracting fuss up front when you are at your most vulnerable and I am most wanting to get to know you, not do paperwork. All I need is basic contact information, a cell phone, an email address, and insurance information if you’re using out-of-network benefits. You have my business card and website so that you can reach me. All other business forms can wait.
The only thing left is to decide is if we have the promise to work well together. If we do, if the ‘fit’ feels right, we set up our next few appointments. A more defined treatment plan will be fleshed out in our next meetings as we get to know each other better. If we aren’t a good fit for whatever reason, I will offer referrals to professionals and services that have promise to help you.
All of the therapists at Explore What’s Next approach your Initial Psych Consult this way. We may have our variations on the theme, but one thing is always true: We all want you to feel safe and cared for from the moment you reach out to us.
Elvira G. Aletta, PhD, Founder & CEO
Life gave Dr. Aletta the opportunity to know what it’s like to hurt physically and emotionally. After an episode of serious depression in her mid-twenties, Dr. Aletta was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease that relapsed throughout her adulthood. While treatable, the cure was often as hard to bear as the disease. Later she was diagnosed with scleroderma, another chronic illness.
Throughout, Dr. Aletta battled with anxiety. Despite all this, Dr. Aletta wants you to know, you can learn to engage in life again on your terms.
Good therapy helped Dr. Aletta. She knows good therapy can help you. That’s why she created Explore What’s Next.
Today Dr. Aletta enjoys mentoring the EWN therapists, focusing on coaching and psychotherapy clients, writing and speaking. She is proud and confident that Explore What’s Next can provide you with therapists who will help you regain a sense of safety, control and joy.
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