Topics you can explore in counselling sessions

One of the things that can be daunting about starting counselling is knowing what to talk about in sessions. Ultimately, the sessions are yours and what you talk about is up to you. However, particularly if you haven’t had counselling before, it may be helpful to have some ideas of what to talk about.


There are all kinds of reasons you might decide to start counselling, and what you talk about in the sessions will probably depend on that. For instance, if you have had a traumatic incident in your life you may wish to talk about that trauma and the impact it has had on your life. If you have experienced a relationship break up or a bereavement, it is likely that will be your starting point. If on the other hand, your reason is less specific (for instance, if you have been experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression) it may be tricky to pinpoint topics that might be helpful.

Before deciding on the types of things you would like to talk about in the sessions it might be helpful to consider the remit of the counselling relationship. For example, if you wish to work on a specific phobia, talking about your identity in detail may not be relevant for your purpose. You may, on the other hand be entering into the counselling with a completely open mind and you may have the approach that anything goes.

Bearing in mind, whether there is an overall remit you would like to stick to, here are some ideas for things you can take to counselling sessions:

  • Past events or relationships from childhood or earlier in adulthood.
  • Current life events and relationships.
  • Specific emotions. For instance: ‘sometimes I wonder why I feel so jealous’.
  • Themes that have featured in your life such as betrayal, loss, or chaos.
  • Self-care. How much do you feel like you look after yourself? What does self-care mean to you?
  • If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, stress, or post-traumatic symptoms, for instance, what does that involve for you? How does it present in the body and how does it impact on your life?
  • Notice if you are triggered by something you read or see on TV. This could be something useful to talk about in counselling.
  • What messages were you given when you were growing up and how have they impacted you? For example, were you given certain messages about who you should be or what it means to be a man or woman for instance? Perhaps it is worth considering if these messages still ring true for you.
  • If you are creative, it may be possible to take creative work to your sessions (eg. poems, art, or reflective writing). Creativity can be helpful when working on managing your emotions or looking at your identity, for example. It can even be helpful for describing difficult events that are tricky to put into words.
  • Patterns that you have noticed in your behaviour. For instance, perhaps you always put yourself down or perhaps you have perfectionist tendencies.
  • Patterns that you have noticed in your relationships. For example, maybe you always end up putting in more effort than the other party or perhaps you don’t feel you can trust people.
  • When we think about relationships, the primary relationships we think of might be our parents and romantic partners. Other useful relationships to explore that might get forgotten are siblings, friends, and co-workers.
  • Beginnings and endings are around us all the time, yet we rarely talk about how we feel about them or deal with them. It can be useful to do so in counselling.

Don’t worry about having or sticking to a rigid plan for the counselling as it can also be useful to have sessions where you see what happens. Very fruitful things can come up by simply being in the here and now. Also, do bear in mind that it depends on the type of counselling you choose as to how your counsellor will go about things. For instance, some counselling may not lend itself to talking about your creative work. Similarly, for example, it can be very relevant in some types of counselling to talk about physical manifestations of issues and not so much in others. If you are unsure speak to your counsellor.
Whilst being in the here and now and seeing what develops can work in counselling, it can be useful and perhaps even empowering to have some ideas for what you would like to focus on in your counselling sessions.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX3
Written by Beth Roberts, Integrative Counsellor and EMDR Therapist MBACP (Accred).
Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX3

I am an integrative counsellor and I work online. I work with a wide range of issues including trauma, depression and anxiety.

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