What Happens in a Therapy Session?

what happens in a therapy session

What Happens in a Therapy Session?

What Happens in a Therapy Session?


If you haven’t had any therapy or counselling before, you may be a little daunted as to what happens in a therapy session? The truth is, it will be slightly different for different types of therapies. Not only that, but every single therapist has his or her unique way of running their psychotherapy or counselling session. What I can give you, however, is a guide to how a Human Givens psychotherapist might structure a therapy session, and in turn, how therapy sessions with me often run.

Initial chat with a therapist

First off is the initial chat. Many psychotherapists prefer to talk to you first before scheduling in a full session. They might do this by phone or an online meeting (you can schedule an online chat with me here). This is to see if you are a good fit for each other. Many counsellors have their expert areas, such as working with teenagers, or prefer to work in a certain type of way, such as online only, or once a week. This chat can help you both work out if these things tally up with what you want. It also gives you chance to see how you feel about your possible psychotherapist. Can you see yourself working with them over the next few weeks?

Sometimes, the result of this chat is that you book in a session straight away, whilst you are on your call. Occasionally, you may need time to think or check your diary.  If you don’t think they’re right for you, then it’s perfectly fine to continue looking. This is an important relationship. If you are asking for something the therapist doesn’t do, such as couples counselling, many counsellors have a rich network of other therapists and can often recommend someone, or refer you to a colleague. Please do ask for recommendations if you find that they don’t work in your particular area.

First therapy session

Your first session is often what we call an intake session. Some therapists may send you forms to fill in beforehand, which will ask for personal details such as your Dr, contact details etc. Others will go through these in your session. Certainly, in a Human Givens session, you will be taken through an assessment. Your therapist should also take you through confidentiality and their own terms of business, unless you have already had this in writing.

The therapist will ask you a number of questions which you may scale from 1-5, or 1-10, depending on the assessment. While these can seem a little tedious, especially when you have something to report, they are really valuable. You may do this every session. I have clients who have come in scoring 1s and 2s on their initial session. Later, when I can share that they are now self-scoring scoring 4,5 and even 6s, it is a tangible recognition of how far they have come. It also allows us to pin-point areas where we need to look, such as feeling valued, or having enough time to themselves.

For me, these measurements are an important part of our sessions together and often prompt some really good work.

The therapy itself

Then, you’ll get into the crux of why you are there. For the first session the therapist will want to know what has brought you to them right here, right now, along with other things that might be going on in your life. A Human Givens counsellor will want to unpack your symptoms. Simply telling them you feel depressed isn’t enough. After all, what feeling depressed means for you might mean sadness and tears, while the next client may equate it with feeling numb and having no energy. Knowing your symptoms, both physical and emotional, is key for Human Givens work.

Paula Gardner talking about what happens in a therapy session

Paula Gardner talking about what happens in a therapy session

We discuss goals. What is it you want to get out of therapy? This is where psychotherapy often divides. Some, the pure talking therapies, are more focused on giving you space to talk, and perhaps spotting patterns from the past. Human Givens sessions are very practical however, and we want you to feel better as soon as possible. While we may bring the past into our sessions, our focus, our work, is on what you can do to move forward. To this end, we often set tasks to help you move towards your goals. You can think of these as homework, if you like. In truth, they are often tools and tactics to help you manage things better, or practise new ways of coping.

However, you are more than your problems. A skilled therapist looks at the resources you have in your life, and helps you gather them together. These could be the people around you, past occassions where you have used a certain skill, your experience, and even personality traits. Understanding your available resources is a key part of helping yourself move forwards, and then talking through how to apply them to your goals.

Guided Imagery

Human Givens psychotherapists often use a tool called Guided Imagery. This is a deep relaxation where you will be guided to a state of calmness – really helpful in itself. In this state you can access your REM state, the state where your brain can create new pathways that help form new patterns for the future. Your therapist may use this imagery to share relaxation tools that you can go away and practise, talk through some of the tasks you agreed on, and help you imagine carrying them out (this means that you are more likely to succeed). It’s a process that athletes often use to hone their skills.

Human Givens therapists also use this state to do work around helping people with addictions, or doing what we call a Rewind technique, for trauma.

Ending the session

Finally, you will end your session setting your next date. Your therapist won’t want to you unpack what’s happened during guided imagery, but it is really helpful if you can build in some extra time for a relaxing walk, or even sit in the car with some gentle music on, if you want to get the most out of the relaxed feeling it brings on, and think through the session.

As I said, each therapist is different. Some will do guided imagery online, some won’t. Some will take notes, some won’t. Some counsellors work from home, some from consulting rooms or a centre somewhere. All these little things are often as important as the therapy. If you’ve a long drive to get to your therapist, or they can only see you on a Tuesday morning, sometimes that can make attending sessions feel less appealing.

Practical issues for counselling

Fees, and the methods of payment, also vary between counsellors, so it’s worth being ultra clear on these. What are the cancellation terms,  and process? Human Givens therapists won’t offer a package of sessions (such as buy six upfront) as we believe that is unethical. We also vary as to whether we charge for no shows. If we’ve hired out a room to see a client, or refused that slot to another client,  it can get expensive if you don’t show up, so this isn’t about being greedy.

The best way to get a feel for working with someone is just to make that initial contact and see how you feel. However, you will get the most out of your therapy by commiting to turning up to sessions, at least trying to tackle your homework, and giving your therapist honest feedback and information. If you feel your goal is no longer relevent, or something more important has come up, tell them! Therapy is a relationship, a collaboration, and you both have your own important parts to play.

You can read more about working with me in the FAQ.