The Counseling Session
a typical counseling session...
Counseling is a tool that can help you solve problems, set and achieve goals, improve communication skills, teach approaches to manage stress and develop coping skills. It can help you to build the life, career, and relationship that you want. If you are curious about working with a therapist, that curiosity is worth pursuing. Consider setting up one or two sessions, keep an open mind, and see how things unfold. You have very little to lose and, potentially, a lot of clarity and contentment to gain.
The initial session:
Due to some necessary formalities and introductions, the first session doesn't look like those that follow. Here's what to expect:
Logistics: If you haven't been there, allow for enough travel time to find parking and locate the office. Therapy offices don't often stand out like Starbucks, they usually have a low profile. The waiting rooms tend to be small and comfortable.
Forms: You might want to show up 10 minutes early to read through and sign any paperwork. These typically include consent forms, a notice about the confidentiality of treatment, any policies the therapist has about cancellation and billing information. You can request a copy of these forms for your records.
Introduction: You're sitting in the waiting room, your heart is pounding with anxiety and anticipation and the door creaks open. In comes your therapist. A handshake is typically offered, along with a standard greeting.
Business: Your therapist may want to go over the consent form with you and discuss payment. This is a good time to set a precedent for future sessions. Pay and take care of other business (session times, cancellations, insurance, etc.) at the beginning of the session.
Your Story: With business aside, the therapist will ask something like: "So, what brings you today?" Here's where you give a brief overview of your story. Don't plan to give a full autobiography, just a rough draft. You'll have plenty of time to fill in the gaps. You can go about this however you'd like: starting with where you were born and moving forward, or starting with your current issue and moving back. Either way, your therapist will help by asking questions that help her understand who you are and what problems you're facing. Here's where you'll really get a feel for therapy - how it feels to talk about yourself, how well she pays attention and how comfortable the conversation feels.
Feedback: In the last few minutes of the session, the therapist may want to summarize what you discussed and give some feedback. According to his experience and therapeutic orientation, he may want to let you know how he conceptualizes your story and how the two of you might go about addressing the issues. He might ask if you have any particular goals you'd like to achieve through therapy. This is your time to begin collaborating on a plan.
Session ending: You don't need to watch the clock, your therapist will let you know when the session is over. Hopefully, by this point you've worked through any first-session anxiety, you've got an idea of how the process works, you've been able to tell some of your story and you're beginning to formulate a plan of action with your therapist. You can cover a lot of ground in 50 minutes.
Reflect: I suggest you take some time after the session to think about what was said and how you felt. Were there any red flags? Did you feel comfortable being open and honest? Were there questions you forgot to ask, or info you weren't able to share? What do you want to talk about next time?
If your first session went well, great. If not, you can either choose another therapist or discuss your concerns with your current one. You're not stuck in this therapy, not now, not ever. If you decide therapy isn't right for you at this time, or if you get a bad feeling about this therapy, you can always call and cancel further sessions. Hopefully, there's a good match from the beginning, and you're quickly getting the help you need.
After the first session:
At the beginning of a session, the therapist typically invites you to share what’s been going on in your life, what’s on your mind, what’s bothering you, or whether there are any goals you’d like to discuss. You’ll be invited to speak openly. The therapist will listen and may take notes as you speak; some, like myself, take notes after a session. You won’t be criticized, interrupted or judged as you speak. This is a special, unique type of conversation in which you can say exactly what you feel—total honesty—without worrying that you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings, damage a relationship, or be penalized in any way. Anything you want—or need—to say is OK.
Some therapists may give clients some homework to complete after a session. During your next session, you might share your progress and address any areas where you got frustrated, stuck, or off-track with your homework or the past session.
Of course, every therapist is different, every client is unique, and every therapist-client relationship is distinct as well—which means that there is no universal description of a therapy session. Ultimately, regardless of the approach, a therapist will listen without judgment and help clients try to find solutions to the challenges they face.