What is single session therapy?

A growing demand for therapy has recently led to more single sessions being sought and offered. Generally, a series of regular sessions is needed to do justice to the issues people bring. But, there are times when a single session is appropriate and adequate.


If you're thinking of booking a single therapy session, tell the therapist that this will be a one-off session when you book so that they can focus on what you need. In a one-off session, it’s important to get down to work, so there’s going to be less time to get to know one another or explore your background.

It’s, therefore, important not to waste your session by just complaining about what’s wrong rather than considering what you want to change. In other words, it helps tremendously if you have an idea of what you want from the session.

What can be done in one session is undoubtedly limited, so it helps to think about what would make the most difference to you and discuss this. The therapist may also be able to give you some advice about further resources or alternative sources of help.

When might a single therapy session be useful?

Lack of time or money

It’s particularly important that you do some research if you’re restricted in how much therapy you’re able to have. Not all therapists have had the training to work on a short-term basis, so look out for those who specifically offer this or mention 'brief' or solution-focused therapy in their profile.

Also, make sure that the therapist you pick is sufficiently trained and experienced to work with your issues. For instance, if you’re a couple, look for someone with a qualification in relationship therapy rather than no qualification or just a weekend’s training. The more experience they have, the more able they will be to evaluate your needs. If it isn’t clear from their website entry that they’ll be able to help, do ask.

Occasional sessions

As well as being great for people with limited time or money, occasional sessions can be helpful if you don’t want to completely end therapy after a course of treatment completes. Some therapists offer a follow-up session anyway, and some people feel more secure knowing there’s a date in the diary when they can check in with their therapist and top up their skills or just unload.

Indeed, unburdening is all some people want, if the relief of sharing with someone uninvolved is helpful. Others want to do specific work on change but need more time for this than regular sessions allow.

For some people, living and experimenting with what they’ve explored in therapy is more important than galloping through a number of regular sessions which they may even find overwhelming. In such cases, occasional sessions allow time to try out what’s been discussed and feedback to the therapist as needed.

Holding sessions

Some therapists with long waiting lists offer an initial one-off session to tide you over until regular sessions can begin. There should be an opportunity to offer some background but don’t get bogged down with this if what you need are, say, some tips for managing your anxiety until regular sessions can begin.

Though a 'getting to know you' session is very helpful, you should be able to come away with a bit more than that, as well as an idea of how long you may need to wait before your regular sessions can start. The therapist may be able to tell you what your therapy options are or how they intend to work with you based on this initial conversation.

Try out sessions

Some people like to meet a number of therapists to work out which sort of therapy or therapist will suit them best. Once again, it’s helpful to approach the session with clear ideas about what you want from it, rather than drifting in and hoping for the best. If the therapist knows this is a 'try out', they will also be more focused on what you need and whether they’re a match, rather than treating the session as the first of many.

Some forms of therapy are definitely not suitable for one-off sessions, and some issues need more in-depth work than a single session can possibly provide. The therapist will be able to advise you about this and suggest your best course of action.

Rather than waiting until the time is perfectly right, it makes sense to get help when you need it, and single sessions can be helpful if you can identify how you want to use your session and choose a practitioner who is familiar with brief therapy.

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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Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP19
Written by Cate Campbell, MA, PGDip (PST), MBACP (Accred), AccCOSRT, EMDR EuropeAccred
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP19

Cate Campbell is a psychotherapist specialising in trauma, sex and relationships.

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