What to expect when seeing a clinical psychologist

Seeing a psychologist for the first time can be a daunting experience for some people. It’s completely normal to feel a little nervous and apprehensive. Knowing what to expect before you arrive can help ease your nerves.

Arriving at the clinic

When you arrive at the clinic, you will be welcomed by one of our client relationship team members. We recommend arriving 5 – 10 mins before your appointment to give you plenty of time to complete any necessary paperwork without feeling rushed.   

Your initial appointment will run for 75 minutes, to allow sufficient time to get to know you and to adequately assess your needs. Typically, subsequent therapy sessions will run for around 50 minutes.


Your clinical psychologist will begin by introducing themselves and providing some information about their experience and expertise. After the initial introductions, your psychologist will talk briefly about confidentiality.

Many people already know that the conversations you have with your psychologist during your appointments are private and confidential. However, there are limits to confidentiality, for example, if your psychologist determines that you are at risk of harming yourself or someone else or if file notes are subpoenaed for legal reasons. Rest assured that should either of these arise during therapy, your psychologist will check in with you about this first.

If you would like your psychologists to communicate about your treatment and progress with practitioners outside of the clinic (for example your GP or psychiatrist), you will be asked to sign a consent form allowing them to do so.

What brought you here?

With formalities aside, your first visit with a clinical psychologist is all about getting to know you and what bought you to your appointment. They may ask you to describe some of the symptoms you are experiencing and the concerns you have. This may include:  

  • Describe a recent example of the problem you are experiencing;
  • If anything makes the problem better or worse;
  • Where the problem occurs or doesn’t occur (e.g. work, school, home);
  • How much it interferes with and impacts your daily life;
  • Any other problems related to this issue;
  • What you’ve tried so far in dealing with the problem;
  • What your thoughts are regarding the causes and solutions to the problem;
  • Anything else that concerns you;

Your clinical psychologist will ask you to describe the history of your symptoms (when the problem first began, how long it has been happening, whether the problem has changed since it first began, any remissions, and the frequency, intensity, and duration of the problem).

Most psychologists will write some notes during sessions to remember what was discussed – this is perfectly normal, so don’t be alarmed if it happens during your session.

What has shaped you?

Your clinical psychologist will also be interested to hear about your family, the nature of your relationships with family members and whether there is any family history of mental health and/or alcohol and other substance use issues.

You may also be asked about your developmental history (i.e. your childhood and teenage years), your relationship history, previous history of psychiatric help, whether you have had any major illnesses or accidents, and current medications. Current information about your lifestyle – including study and/or work, leisure activities, relationships, and friendships – can also be useful in getting to know you and understand what you are experiencing.

Your clinical psychologist will also be interested in your goals and expectations for therapy and what specific changes you would like to see.

Observations and therapy recommendations

Equipped with all of the above information, your clinical psychologist will provide you with feedback and their views on the presenting issue(s), possible causes and maintaining factors. Based on this assessment they will provide a rationale for the type of evidence-based treatment suited to your unique situation.

Depending on what the presenting problem(s) are, evidence-based treatments may include cognitive, behavioural, dialectical, schema therapy and/or mindfulness-based therapeutic approaches. These treatments are too complex to explain here, however, your psychologist can discuss these approaches to you, answer any questions you may have and provide you with further information resources.

Collaborative treatment plan

Future psychological therapy sessions involve working collaboratively on your goals and chipping away at the presenting problem(s) to improve your mood and coping.

Your clinical psychologist will make a recommendation about the frequency of your psychological therapy sessions based on your individual circumstances.  Often people attend on a weekly or fortnightly basis to start off with, gradually reducing the frequency of their sessions as they improve. After your first session, we recommend booking a series of therapy appointments to ensure you are able to consistently work towards reaching your goals.

Written by Michelle Jongenelis, Senior Clinical Psychologist 

More information

If you would like to learn more about therapy or book an appointment with one of our experienced clinical psychologists, contact our friendly client team by calling 6143 4499 or email via our contact page.

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