What to Expect on Your First Day of Residential Mental Health Treatment

It is natural to have doubts and questions before you begin your residential treatment, but rest assured that the staff is committed to your successful treatment experience. On your first day, you’ll meet your recovery community, the staff and peers who will all serve as supportive resources on your journey. The best advice for your first day is to be there and to believe in all your successes, however small.

To say that I was nervous on my first day would be a huge understatement. I had committed to getting help, but once my anxiety had kicked in, all bets were off. That morning, I “woke up late” in hopes that I’d miss my flight (I didn’t, thanks to my husband), and once I’d landed, I dilly-dallied at the airport thinking I’d miss my admissions appointment and they’d refuse to take me. I did miss it, but staff at my program just rescheduled it for later in the day. They were good about things like that: about meeting me where I was, even if that meant taking a few steps back with me. That willingness to adjust their plans to meet my needs was everything. It made treatment possible for me.

When my sister, Lena, finally went into residential treatment, it was a big deal. Lena struggled with generalized anxiety disorder—and had for as long as she (and I) could remember. She knew that she needed to learn how to manage it, but she just didn’t know where to start. Whenever she began to consider treatment, her anxiety would go into hyperdrive, and she’d panic. It was a long time before she could even think about treatment without having a panic attack.

If you’re facing a stay in a residential treatment program, and you’re anything like Lena, you’re probably just as terrified as she was. But the crucial thing is that you’ve committed to go, and that in itself is an act of courage, one that speaks volumes about how dedicated you are to moving forward in your life.

Now what? What will your first day look like? When will you meet the other people in your treatment program? Will you have to wade through a bunch of paperwork? They’re all valid questions, whose answers can help alleviate any anxiety before you embark on this next step of your journey.

Paving the Way for a Successful Treatment Experience

On your first day of treatment, it’s easy to feel anxious and overwhelmed. You’ve made it this far, but it can still feel like you’re standing at the base of the mountain, looking up. To help lessen those feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, residential treatment staff will go out of their way to make you feel welcomed and supported in whatever ways make the most sense to you. For example, if it’s helpful for you to do as little admissions paperwork as possible, the admissions coordinator can work directly with family members or support people instead to get most of it out of the way before you arrive. That can really take the pressure off of you and give you a chance to focus on what’s really important—your treatment—rather than the business of getting there.

With paperwork out of the way, once you’ve arrived, staff may offer to give you a guided tour of the grounds or help you unpack so that you can start getting settled in. But, like all other aspects of treatment, each transition is tailored to the individual client; so if either of those things would increase your anxiety or make you feel more overwhelmed, you should feel very welcome to decline. Staff know that treatment is most successful when clients feel safe and that their voices are heard.

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Meeting Your Recovery Community

At some point during the day, you’ll meet your cohorts: the community of peers you’ll be walking alongsideduring each of your respective journeys. There’s an increasing amount of research that backs peer support in residential treatment centers as a legitimate, evidence-based mental health practice, so if you feel like you might need a little extra support while you’re in treatment, the peer community you’ll build is a really good way to get that.

On your first day, you’ll also meet the primary member of your professional treatment team—usually a therapist or a psychiatrist. The idea of going to therapy for the first time (or having to build rapport with an entirely new therapist) can be really anxiety-producing for some, but rest assured that your therapist will know this and will want to do everything in their power to help you feel comfortable. During your first session in treatment, your therapist will likely want to get a better sense of what you want to get out of therapy, so there won’t be pressure to get into any of the tough stuff right away. It’s a slow transition, and it can be a really supportive way to round out your first day.

My Advice for Your First Day? Just Get There

In retrospect, my sister’s first day in treatment didn’t go exactly the way she (or her treatment team) had planned. Fortunately, the staff in her program understood that getting to treatment was a process for her, one in which she had to battle the intense, persistent anxiety that was making it hard for her to do the very thing that could help her the most. That’s the great thing about finding a program that changes to fit you: it adapts to the shape you need; and if you need a change of pace, it changes with you to keep you moving forward.

If I could go back and tell my sister one thing on that first day, I’d tell her that every success is valuable, even if it feels small. If you get to treatment, that’s a success. Take it and run with it.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment options for people struggling with anxiety disorders, process addictions, substance abuse disorders, and other mental health challenges. If you or a loved one is considering a stay in a residential treatment program, connect with us today to learn more about how we can tailor treatment to meet your individual needs.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash User Seth Doyle