Personal History PowerPoints – What They Are and How They Can Help You Make the Most of Your Therapy Sessions
No matter who you are, seeing a new therapist for the first time can feel like a lot. That “first therapy session” anxiety is no joke. Which is why we’re all for finding ways to make that initial “get to know you” period with a new therapist a little easier.
Getting a new therapist up to speed on your life in a 50-minute session is quite an undertaking, especially if you’re shy about opening up to new people. That’s where personal history PowerPoints come in.
When most people start seeing a new therapist, they often fall into one of a few categories:
The Therapy Newcomer
Some therapy newcomers have known they need to see a therapist for years, but have been putting it off due to nervousness, denial, lack of access, etc. Most likely, something’s recently happened in their lives that made them decide to take the plunge and give therapy a try. They likely don’t know what to expect but are taking a risk hoping it will pay off.
Therapy newcomers tend to approach their first therapy session feeling nervous – maybe even flat-out scared – but are also eager to see results from therapy as soon as possible.
The Therapy Veteran
Therapy veterans have already been in therapy before, maybe for a while. For whatever reason, they’ve found themselves in the market for a new therapist.
Some therapy veterans had to stop seeing their previous therapist because of external factors like scheduling conflicts, insurance coverage, geographical changes, etc. They may have spent years cultivating a productive therapeutic relationship with their old therapist. They might feel like they’re starting from scratch.
Other therapy veterans are seeing someone new because they decided their previous therapist wasn’t working for them. That means they need to get their new therapist up to speed on their needs and situation as quickly as possible to avoid disrupting their care or backsliding on their progress.
In either case, it makes sense that patients seeing a new therapist would want to get their therapist up to speed on who they are and what they need as quickly as possible. Besides, the faster you get past the awkward getting-to-know-you stage, the faster you can decide if that therapist is a good fit – meaning you can focus on making progress and getting support.
The Value of Coming Prepared
The first few sessions with a new therapist can feel a little awkward for a few reasons:
- You’ve never met this person before. When was the last time you had to spend almost an hour talking to a stranger one-on-one? Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool extrovert, that alone can be nerve-wracking!
- The first session with a new therapist generally involves a mix of housekeeping topics (fees, insurance coverage, scheduling) with personal information (why you’re in therapy, details about your family, your mental health diagnoses). That’s a very big transition to make conversationally.
- Not all therapists are extroverts, meaning they might feel a little uncomfortable, too!
- Your therapist is trying to process a lot of information about you, their new patient, very quickly. They’re absorbing a lot of information while trying to establish rapport with you and decide whether they’re a good fit for you. That takes a lot of focus and thinking on their feet.
Coming in with some prepared information you can offer them can help them grasp what you’re telling them more quickly and contextualize key information about you. This can reduce the amount of time you have to spend answering basic questions about yourself. You can get past the surface-level topics and delve into deeper issues sooner. You can also focus on finding common ground with your therapist, which is useful for determining fit and forming a relationship with them.
That’s where personal history PowerPoints come in.
What’s a Personal History PowerPoint?
A personal history PowerPoint (also sometimes called a “trauma PowerPoint”) is essentially a PowerPoint presentation for your therapist about who you are and what you need from them. This practice started on TikTok when a few creative people decided to streamline their hunt for the perfect therapist.
It might seem silly, but a lot of therapists actually appreciate personal history PowerPoints. It’s like an orientation packet that they can refer back to as needed.
It’s up to you when to show your new therapist your PowerPoint. Here are your options:
When You Make Your First Appointment
This does take a bit of gumption (and a healthy ability to laugh at yourself) since it’s an unusual thing to do. It also requires you to have it ready when you make your appointment.
The big benefit to this approach is that if your therapist has time, they’ll be able to take a look at your PowerPoint before you actually meet. They’ll have an idea of what to expect when they meet you. And if there’s any information you want your therapist to have without having to necessarily tell them (like if you have a history of abuse or trauma), this is an efficient way to tell them what they need to know. Then during your actual appointment, you can gloss over those sensitive slides, knowing they’ve already seen them.
During Your Appointment
You can also just show up to your appointment and tell them you’ve prepared a get-to-know-you PowerPoint presentation.
The main benefit of this approach is that you’ll be narrating all the information to your therapist face-to-face. This is the first time your therapist will see you or this information, so you’ll be able to see how they react to your communication style and your personal details. This is a great way to see if they’re a good match for you.
Not sending the slides to your therapist beforehand also gives you the option to decide how comfortable you feel with them on the spot. That gives you a little more freedom to decide how in-depth you want to go into some of the more sensitive parts of your life story.
The Benefits of Kicking Off Your Therapeutic Relationship With a PowerPoint
We’ll admit, this is an unconventional way to approach a first session. But depending on what level of experience you’re bringing to your appointment, it can offer some significant benefits.
Benefits for Therapy Newcomers
It’s extremely common for people to be nervous during their first-ever therapy session. Lots of people freeze up or forget key points they wanted to mention until after the session is over. They may have a hard time articulating why they’re in therapy or what they want to talk about. Having a bit of a prepared script can help them feel more prepared. And if you freeze up? No big deal! Your presentation can do some of the talking for you.
Benefits for Therapy Veterans
A lot of people who’ve been in therapy for a long time tend to feel like they’re not getting to the heart of the deeper issues they need help with. Everyone’s lives are chaotic, stressful, and complicated. It’s easy for therapy sessions to become more of a weekly vent session than an actual deep-dive and problem-solving session with a professional.
This is doubly true if you have deep-seated trauma or concerns you need to tackle, but have trouble approaching in therapy. You might end up dealing with short-term problems, like how to deal with your frustrating boss, instead of getting to the heart of why you find interacting with authority figures to be so stressful.
People who have been in therapy for a long time may also have spent a lot of time bouncing from therapist to therapist. If you’ve been shopping around for a therapist for a long time, you might feel emotionally exhausted (or even just bored) from going over some of your most intimate, impactful life experiences. If you have trauma or PTSD, recounting the same difficult experiences to each prospective therapist can take a toll on your mental health.
What to Put in Your Personal History PowerPoint
The short answer is, “whatever you want your therapist to know about you right off the bat!” Everyone’s reasons for starting therapy are different, so no personal history PowerPoint will look the same.
To help you get some inspiration for what to put in your personal history PowerPoint, let’s take a look at what other people have included for inspiration.
A Quick Snapshot of Who You Are
You can list your education, career, key personal relationships, living situation, places you’ve lived, or things you’re most proud of accomplishing in your life.
If you want to provide a more in-depth version of your life story, you can group your life into stages with a slide for each stage explaining what that part of your life looked like and how it impacts you today. Some of this might come up anyway in conversation, but it’s good flavor to help your therapist understand you as a person.
Along this same vein, you could also walk them through what a typical day/week looks like for you, mental health-wise.
Key Symptoms or Problems You’re Currently Dealing With
This gives your therapist an idea of what to expect from your sessions. It’ll also inform whether or not they think they can effectively treat you.
A Trauma Timeline
If you’re the kind of person who likes to jump in with both feet, you can start strong by getting deep. This can be effective if you’re in therapy to help address a traumatic past or if you have a lot of ground to cover. You can go chronologically or the way this TikToker did it – ranked in terms of importance or severity.
What You’re Doing to Cope
Make sure to mention both your good and “bad” coping mechanisms – and how well your current coping strategies are working.
A Family Tree
This can also just be a list of names of key people in your life, along with a quick explanation of why they’re impactful to you. You can include non-familial relationships as well, such as exes, significant others, or friends, if you want to discuss those relationships.
Kinds of Therapy/Treatment You’ve Tried in the Past
This will be especially relevant to therapy veterans who have an idea of what they need from their therapist. Be sure to mention how well each past treatment method worked for you. This will help your therapist figure out what approach to take with you moving forward.
Your Mental Diagnoses, Past and Present
If you suspect you might have a diagnosable mental health condition but haven’t been evaluated by a professional yet, you can also include this here.
If you have any physical health conditions that affect your mental health or are likely to come up in-session, include those too.
Questions You Have for Your Therapist
Getting to know a new therapist is a two-way street. Here are a few questions you might want to ask them:
- How would you describe your style as a therapist?
- What kinds of therapy techniques do you usually use to treat someone like me?
- Is there anything that makes you think we might not be a good fit?
“Whew, I made it through my first session! Now what?”
Pat yourself on the back! Hopefully your PowerPoint helped you hit it off with your new therapist.
Other Uses for Therapy PowerPoints
Therapy PowerPoints don’t have to just be for orienting a new therapist. If that worked well for you, you can try what this TikToker did and make PowerPoint slides for your weekly sessions as well.
We like this method because it’s a fun, effective way to prepare yourself for therapy every week. It forces you to sit down and get introspective about what is and isn’t working in your life. It’s a great time to recognize life’s small wins. And it gives you a chance to set the tone for your upcoming appointment. One TikToker even made a template that people can customize for their own therapy sessions. Don’t be afraid to have fun with it.
Therapy is all about thinking outside the box to find what works for you. If making a PowerPoint presentation makes therapy feel more comfortable and manageable, then by all means, go for it.
If you are interested in finding a new therapist or psychiatrist, we have hundreds of providers ready to support you. Our easy-to-use provider directory will get you started and match you with providers in a matter of minutes.