You will usually have a number of planned, regular sessions lasting for around 50 minutes. How often you see your therapist, and how many sessions you have, will depend on your individual circumstances.
You may see your therapist on a one-to-one basis or in a group, or you may speak to them over the telephone or online. They may go through specific exercises designed to help you with the problem you're experiencing. Or you might have more general discussions about how you're feeling.
What you talk about will vary depending on the problem you want help with and the type of therapy you are getting. It could include:
- your relationships
- your childhood
- your emotions
- your thoughts
- your behaviour
- situations or events you find difficult
Your first session
Every therapist has their own way of beginning therapy. They may start by talking about what will happen in your therapy or they may begin straightaway by asking you what is troubling you. Either way is fine, but there are a few things your first session must cover:
Your therapist should spend a few minutes introducing themselves. If you’re not sure whether to call them by their first name or to be more formal, just do what you feel most comfortable with. If you feel the therapist is too informal in the way they address you, you should say so.
Your therapist may start by taking a history of the troubles you are experiencing. They might ask you to complete some forms, or go through information they have received about you, such as a letter from your GP. They may just ask you to ‘tell your story’. Whatever format the assessment takes, you should feel you have the opportunity to tell the therapist about the issues that are troubling you.
Your therapist should agree the terms, or contract with you, on how they will provide their services. This should include:
- Practical details
Your therapist should discuss with you the number and frequency of sessions you will have and how any fees will be paid. They should also explain what happens if you miss a session or are away on holiday.
- Confidentiality and note taking
Your therapist should explain how they will protect your confidentiality and privacy. They will also tell you of any situations when they may be required to disclose information about you. Therapists will usually take notes or record the sessions in some way for their own professional use. They should tell you how they will do this. If they wish to record your sessions on tape, they must ask for your permission first.
During the first session, or at any time during your therapy, you can ask your therapist anything you want to know about their qualifications and experience. You can also ask them about your therapy and question anything you don't understand. Your therapist should encourage you to do this.
Your relationship with your therapist is very important. To get the best out of the process it’s important that you have confidence in them. Trust your instinct and if you’re unsure about the therapist, seek another one.
If no therapist seems suitable, you may want to consider whether you would wish to proceed with therapy or not.
For further information, see:
Our 'Ask Kathleen' service provides confidential guidance and information on what to do if you have any concerns about your therapy or your therapist
Protecting the public
How we safeguard clients and raise public confidence in the counselling professions
Types of therapy
An A-Z of therapeutic approaches, modalities or ways of working.
If you have any comments or would like to share your story, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org