Last updated on November 24th, 2023.
Though it’s great to enrich your life with professional counseling, it’s totally normal to have some lingering doubts or apprehensions before your first appointment. Thankfully, knowing what to expect during the session can help to reduce any anxiety you may have about the counseling process – and that’s where we can help. Keep reading to find out exactly what happens during a typical counseling session.
A counseling session typically happens in a one-on-one talk format, where the client will speak directly with their counselor about their struggles or any significant life updates. Then, the session will switch to a problem-solving discussion, where solutions and coping skills will be discussed.
In this article, we will cover every aspect of a typical counseling session. That way, you can have peace of mind and a clear head on the day of your appointment.
What Is a Counseling Session Like?
Counseling sessions are often depicted as stuffed-shirt discussions with robotic counselors. But this image is in stark contrast to what you may experience in a real-life counseling session. Here’s what a counseling session is really like.
To begin your session, you will sit down in a quiet room and talk with your counselor about your background and current struggles. They will then attempt to offer insight into why you’re struggling. Finally, they will begin treatment and assign “homework” to help you build necessary coping skills.
There is a bit of confusion surrounding whether you may be offered medication during a counseling session. Here’s the answer: counselors are not permitted to prescribe medication to their clients; only psychiatrists may do so if they deem it necessary. So, you will not be prescribed medication during your counseling session. If your counselor identifies signs of a mental issue that may need prompt attention along with medication, they will refer you to the appropriate professional.
How Long Is A Typical Counseling Session?
Now, let’s get into how long a typical counseling session is. On average, you should expect to spend anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour in your session. Sometimes, a session may run a bit longer than this range
The Typical Structure of a Counseling Session
You now know how long a counseling session is and what typically happens during one. But what most don’t know is that counseling sessions often follow a specific structure. We’ll get into that in this section.
A typical counseling session has 4 distinct steps, including:
- Greetings and formalities
- Recap & Take-home tasks
You may not go through all of these steps in a defined manner in every session, but you will more often than not.
Let’s take a look at all of these steps in a bit more detail in the sections below.
Part 1: Greetings & Formalities (10 minutes)
When you first go into your counseling session, your counselor will greet you and make you feel welcome. They’ll also offer you a seat and (sometimes) some water. If this is your first visit, your counselor may also talk to you about their credentials and assure you that they’re capable of providing compassionate care.
If you haven’t already, you may need to complete some forms that call for identifying information and your medical history. There are other forms and waivers that you may need to sign or fill out. Most counselors will have you fill out a questionnaire to define what drove you to seek counseling.
Part 2: Discovery (20 minutes)
After the greeting and formalities portion, you and your counselor will proceed to the discovery step. During this step, your counselor will attempt to decipher why you came into the office. It may be as simple as asking “What brings you in here today?” You’ll then have the opportunity to express yourself however you feel comfortable. As you speak, your counselor will sit back, listen, and absorb. They may ask questions here and there, but they won’t likely interject very often.
If this is one of your first counseling sessions, this part of the counseling session will be lengthy.
Part 3: Discussion (20 minutes)
In the next part of a typical counseling session, you and your counselor will discuss any pertinent issues that were uncovered in the discovery step. Your counselor will rehash the issues that you brought up in an effort to ensure that they fully understand what you’ve said.
Depending on the state in which you’re receiving counseling services and your level of mental anguish, your counselor may diagnose you with a mental illness and provide you a treatment plan to manage it. But even if you don’t receive a formal diagnosis for a mental or psychological problem, your counselor will discuss effective techniques to remedy your issues and improve your quality of life.
Part 4: Recap and Take-Home Tasks (5 to 10 minutes)
During the recap step, your counselor will go over what was discussed in the session and ensure that no stone is left unturned. And then, if applicable, your counselor will assign some homework designed to help you get through your issues. You may be asked to practice mindfulness techniques or implement deep breathing during times of stress. The homework will be directly in line with your overall treatment plan, of course.
Before your session ends, you may be given several pieces of information, including:
- Phone number to reach your counselor directly.
- Helpful resources you can use in-between sessions.
- Relevant hotlines you can call for instant assistance.
- Informational pamphlet about the specific issue you’re seeking help for.
Note: Every counselor is different and may not go through all of these steps in this exact order. There will also be some instances in which your counselor will jump back and forth between them. Also, know that the time estimates are not exact – your counselor may need to spend more time on a specific step to provide thorough and effective care.
We hope that this article is helpful to you, having given you an insider look at how counseling sessions go. Now you can walk into your counseling appointment with confidence, considering you’ve got a good idea of what to expect. Counseling may be exactly what you need to put your toughest struggles in the past and move forward. Good luck!