What should I expect from counselling?

Coming into therapy can be a nerve-wracking experience. What is expected of you as a client? How do you know you are using the sessions as beneficially as possible?


Well, rest assured, doing therapy ‘wrong’ is extremely difficult. Depending on the type of therapist you have chosen (person-centred, psychodynamic, CBT, etc.), you may have certain expectations. But, general things to consider when starting therapy are:

  • Why are you coming to therapy? Ask yourself, what is the main reason you are seeking therapeutic support?
  • Past problem or a current issue? How is it impacting your life right now?
  • What are you hoping to gain from therapy?
  • Are you ready to explore your thoughts and feelings? What are you afraid of?

What does a typical therapy session look like?

A typical therapy hour is 50 minutes. So, if your session starts at 11am it will finish at 11:50am. If you are late, this is deducted from your time.
As a general rule, the session agenda is set by you - the client - unless stated otherwise by the therapist. This means that you can talk about whatever you want; continuing a topic from the previous week or talking about something completely unrelated.

Arriving with nothing prepared often opens up unexpected doors and can lead to some interesting discoveries, so don’t worry if you feel you have nothing to say. I always encourage clients to keep a thought journal when working with me. This is a place where you can write down anything that pops up in the week that might feel important.

A counselling session can often stir up old and new emotions that can express themselves in the weeks following. So, having a safe place to write these down can be really helpful and give you things to talk about in your sessions.

Person writing in a journal
Silences are an important part of therapy, for many reasons. For some people, silence can be experienced as extremely awkward and they will try and fill it, which is common and can be quite revealing in itself. But try and see them as a space for thoughts and feelings to emerge.

By sitting in silence you are allowing your mind to journey to a place it may normally avoid and this can be very helpful in therapy.

Sometimes, stopping and sitting with yourself for a few moments is all you need for difficult emotions to come to the surface.

How long should therapy take?

How long is a piece of string? Therapy is such an organic process that, unless you are participating in certain types of time-limited therapy like CBT or solution-focused, it is hard to put a time limit on it.

You often find that you have come in wanting to look at one thing and realise it is just the tip of the iceberg. But, on other occasions, the presenting problem is all that needs to be looked at and the therapy can be fairly quick.

As a client, it is entirely up to you if you want to end your therapy. If the therapist feels there is more work to do, they may infer this, but you are under no obligation to continue.
Most importantly, remember that therapy is a space for you to explore what you want to. It is the therapist's job is to help facilitate this in the best way possible. If you are not happy with the progress being made, you are entirely within your rights to say this or to terminate your 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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London WC1X & Hove BN3
Written by Fran Roberts, BSc PGDip MBACP
London WC1X & Hove BN3

Style of counselling I have been an Integrative counsellor for over a decade and use a variety of approaches including CBT, MBCT, person centred and solution focused brief therapy. I combine these approaches according to the clients’ needs, believing strongly that no two people or issue can be...

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