What happens in a therapy session?
Different therapists work in different ways but I can tell you what I offer people, and why, and give you an idea of what will happen in sessions with me.
My approach is based on a few factors: my experience of what has worked for people I’ve counselled; my judgment about what is best for each individual; what I learned in my MSc training at Birkbeck, University of London; the learning I gain from continuing personal development (CPD); the guidance I get from my therapeutic supervisor; and my own research into evidence-based assessments of what is effective in psychotherapy and counselling.
Each person is unique, each therapy is unique and each session is unique but I do maintain some factors as a constant.
Being in a supportive, safe space
I put the professional relationship between me the therapist and you the client at the heart of what I do. I provide a safe, supportive, confidential and non-judgmental space for people to talk about their lives, feelings, worries, problems, past, present, future.
For me, the role of the therapist is to listen and to create an environment where you can make sense of your life and what is going on.
So you might describe a problem, a feeling, a worry or a relationship that is causing you difficulty. I will listen and I might offer suggestions as to how that links to other things that are going on in your life or happened in the past. Together we will explore the issue and your reactions to it in terms of the past and the present. I might ask some questions to help you open up your thinking.
Do you tell clients how to fix their problems?
I don’t see my role as being to tell people "do this" or "be more like that". In my experience and based on other people's research, it is not helpful to people. And believe me, it’s not like I know the answer to everyone’s problems and am withholding for some reason of my own.
I genuinely believe that change comes from a person themselves, and that change can happen if we have more understanding of ourselves. I think a good therapist can walk alongside a person, and offer support, a sounding board, and reflect.
If you think back to the times in your life that some external person – a parent, friend, teacher, whoever – told you “oh you need to be more like this”, or “you need to give up this”, or “try not to think about that”, you might find that these pieces of advice, some well meant and some maybe not very kindly meant, had a low success rate. Particularly in the longer term.
Sessions last for 50 minutes. It is important that we keep to the set time and it is my responsibility to start and end sessions on time
The reason for the set time is that therapy is not like other human interactions: it can be profound, moving, upsetting, uplifting, uncomfortably honest. It can be scary to think about painful things. It is important to have the boundary of knowing that it will start and end at the same time, to keep you secure in the space.
In my experience, the framework that a start and end time provides are more beneficial for people in the long run. Speaking for myself, it is not that the therapist doesn’t want to give more, is heartlessly bringing the time to an end for the sake of it, has some place he’d rather be.
It’s about the security of a set time, which can offer containment. In this safe space, people find they can think and feel and explore.
Are the sessions regular?
Obviously, life happens and if we have to change a session time for a pressing reason then we can work with that but broadly speaking we try to keep to the same day, same time, same place, each week
I have found that this regular, reliable slot works best: if there is a lot going on in a person's life it can be a rare point in the week where they get time for themselves. It gives you a place and a time to think as we work towards you understanding more about your life, your story, and what is going on for you.