What do I do in a therapy session?

The structure of the therapy sessions may vary, depending on:

  • the type of therapy you have
  • how the therapy is delivered – for example, one-to-one or in a group
  • the problem you want help with – for example, your therapist may go through specific exercises designed to help you with the problem you’re experiencing, or you might have a more general discussion about how you’re feeling.

What will they ask me?

What a therapist asks you may vary depending on the problem you want help with and the type of therapy you are getting. Therapists may ask you about:

  • your relationships
  • your childhood
  • your emotions
  • your thoughts
  • your behaviour
  • situations or events you find difficult.

How long is each session?

Sessions can last between 30 minutes to an hour and a half, but most commonly sessions last for 50 minutes. The length of sessions may vary depending on the type of therapy you have, the problem you want help with and how well you’re feeling. The way in which therapy is delivered may also affect the length of sessions – for example, group sessions may last a little longer.

How often will I have sessions?

How often you have sessions may also vary. You may see a therapist once a week, or two to three times a week.

This may depend on:

  • the type of therapy you have
  • where you access therapy from
  • how well you’re feeling – when you’re unwell, you may see a therapist more frequently.

How do I know therapy is going well?

After a few sessions, it's a good sign to feel that the experience is truly a joint effort and that you and your therapist enjoy a good relationship. If you feel "stuck" or lacking direction or disconnected, you should be open with your psychologist with the relationship is going. Therapy isn't just to talk about "outside" problems, but working on the therapeutic alliance has been shown to also improve mental health.

There may be times when a psychologist appears cold and uninterested or doesn't seem to think positively of you. Tell your psychologist if this is the situation. If you disagree with the approach of the therapy, talk to your psychologist about your disagreement. If you find yourself reluctant to make it for sessions, or wanting to cancel, or discontinuing therapy, talk to your psychologist about it. If you feel like you are not making as much progress as you would like, it would be good to review how therapy is going with your psychologist.

People often feel a wide range of emotions during therapy. Some people are afraid that they have to talk about painful and troubling experiences. Tell your psychologist about your fears. You won't be forced to talk about things you don't want to explore but when you actually are ready to talk about these experiences, it is a positive sign that you feel safe in the relationship and that you are starting to explore the reasons for your distress.

It's important to remember that therapy is challenging and hard work. Therapeutic relationships are challenging because they involve talking about difficult feelings, thoughts and situations. It also takes time to build trust and feel comfortable.

What if things are not improving?

If you have talked to your therapist about how things are going, but things still are not getting better, ask your therapist or your GP if they can refer you to someone else.

How to get the most of your therapy session:

  1. Forget the clock: Take the full session and let your therapist be responsible for wrapping up. This is your time to focus on yourself.
  2. Make it part of your life: Therapy works best when you take what you've learned and apply it to other areas of your life.
  3. Relationship: If there are any issues concerning the relationship with your therapist, bring it up. If you are worried about bringing it up, bring up the worry. Remember, your relationship with your therapist will affect your collaboration with your therapist and thus your success in achieving your therapy goals.
  4. Ask anything: You can ask whatever you want. You don't need to filter yourself. Your therapist will explain their boundaries. Your therapy hour is the time for you to be authentic and open.
  5. Curiosity: Therapy is about understanding. Approach your life with curiosity in the safety of the therapeutic alliance. Wonder why you reacted strongly when asked an innocent question, why did you get angry when your colleague commented on the colour of your shirt. Change comes with understanding.
  6. Explain: If you don't understand what your therapist is saying, ask him/her to explain. Sometimes they are so used to the psychological jargon that they forget the terms are not in our everyday vocabulary.
  7. Go deeper: Freud said sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes though a cigar could mean something more. If you are just talking for the sake of talking, stop! And talk about the fact that you are bored in therapy and you feel it is not going anywhere. Take your therapy hour to explore who you are, what you feel and why you do what you do.
  8. Change: People often find change scary, it's different and it's unknown. Sometimes even though the old situation is what's causing your distress, it's still safer because it's familiar. But maybe it's worth the risk, and it's time to make that change. Mental health problems do not just go away magically, they require an agent of change - you. Therapy is your chance to work out what is causing your problems and what you can do about it to lead a happier and healthier life.



Adapted from:

21 tips for clients in psychotherapy. (2016, September 1). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-therapy/201005/21-tips-clients-in-psychotherapy

How to find help through seeing a psychologist. (2016, September 1). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/therapy.aspx

Adapted from © Mind UK, September 2016