What should I expect from counseling? The 4 “must-have” elements in your session! 


What should I expect from counseling? The 4 “must-have” elements in your session! 

Does the idea of going to see a therapist freak you out or make you feel uneasy? You are not alone! Often times, people do not know what to expect and that fact alone can make you feel quite anxious.

One of the interesting things about counseling is that there is a wide range of experiences one could have with counseling. The ones that seem to complain or say that counseling does not work are the people who had bad experiences. Then there are people who swear by it and had some sort of life changing experience which we can assume were good experiences. My hope for you is that your counseling experience is a good one! For those who had a bad experience or experiences, first of all, I apologize on behalf of those therapists. I am so sorry that you had that terrible experience. My hope is that you give it another try and know what it is that you should expect.

Another interesting thing about counseling is that it is not always standardized. For example, you pretty much know what to expect when you see a dentist. Usually a front desk staff will greet you and have you sign in. Then some dentist staff will have you seated and look over your file. Lastly, the actual dentist will see you and get whatever service you need done completed. When it comes to counseling, there is often a shroud of mystery as to what is going to happen. This is because the tool of intervention is the therapist! There are as many types of therapists as there are personalities in this world. That is why it can be confusing and difficult to know what flavor you’re going to get. This is why it is so important to find the right compatible fit with the therapist you’ll be working with.

I can only speak for myself as to what you can expect from counseling. If my expectations sound like something that would make you feel more at ease and helpful, my hope is that you bring that up with your potential therapist or evaluate this therapist based on these expectations. Instead of telling you the play-by-play of what you can expect, I feel like it may be more important to know the content that should be addressed. Here are the 4 “must-have” elements in your counseling session:

1. Introduction and setting the frame.

The therapist will most likely introduce him or herself, discuss the terms of confidentiality, and the purpose of today’s meeting. I usually feel uneasy if the therapist leaves it too open ended and I am not sure where we are going with the session. I am expecting the therapist to set the structure of the session in guiding the discussion.

2. Providing the space to share pertinent information.


I think it is important to feel like there is enough time to explain the situation and how I feel without being rushed or cut off. This also includes a certain level of emotional safety and openness to learn without negative judgment. 

3. Validation and understanding.

Validation is simply communicating that what I think and feel makes sense given my situation. This should be happening throughout the sharing as well as toward the end when things are wrapping up. There needs to be a certain level of demonstration that the therapist gets the big picture of why you are here to seek support.

4. Discussion of treatment goals and plan.

This is very important to me. If you came to see counseling simply to have a listening ear and a place to vent, then there are much cheaper avenues to do that like friends or even your barber! Counseling should be much more than that! It may feel good to be listened to and it is definitely a big part of counseling but it would be a big disservice to you if things stayed the same! That is why it is important to identify what it is you want to see changed or different. This allows you to know the direction of what your future sessions are aimed to accomplish. The treatment plan is what the therapist believes will be the guide to get you those changes. If the therapist has no idea what could help you in your treatment goals, then you should be very concerned!

If you were able to experience these 4 elements in your counseling session and feel a good connection with the therapist, then I think you are in a good place! As a paying client who desires growth and change, you are entitled to have good counseling! May this be a guide to knowing what to expect!