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Fact Sheet

Individual counseling or therapy

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Discuss what you want to resolve or change

People who want advice and help with their problems often go to see a mental health professional to talk about what they want to resolve or change. Generally these are individual sessions, with just you and the counselor, therapist, or psychologist. Sometimes, however, your therapist could suggest that you join a group with others who have similar concerns, or your therapist might also have sessions with you and your parents and other family members.

What happens during individual counseling or therapy?

Individual counseling involves talking about your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors and the things that are troubling you. You might spend time talking about your relationships with others, the things you are good at and the things you would like to be different. Your counselor or therapist will work with you to set goals or identify the things you would like to accomplish together. The counselor or therapist will help you develop different strategies to help you reach your goals. In some cases this could mean helping you to change patterns of thinking, learning new skills, changing behaviors, or shifting the way you feeel and express emotions. Your counselor or therapist might also give you homework so that you can practice some of the things you are learning outside of the counseling sessions.

At the first appointment, it’s typical for both you and your counselor or therapist to talk about what you want from the therapy. There are many different approaches to managing mental health difficulties. You may find it helpful to know more about some of approaches; you can learn more in the Get Help section of the web site or in the What kind of therapy is right for me? fact sheet.

Most therapists want to meet weekly or every other week, although you may be available to meet more or less often depending on your particular needs. If you need more intensive treatment, you can consider a psychiatric hospital stay or an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) which is a structured program that meets for several hours a day, three to five days a week

Paying for services

Before you have your first appointment, it’s a good idea to be clear about how much the counseling session will cost or whether the service is free. If you have private insurance, it may or may not cover all of the expenses. You can be in touch with your insurance provider to get further clarification. This information could be available online at your provider’s website. Recipients of Medicaid may be able to have their services paid through this federal-state partnership program. For more information on how to pay for services see the Paying for mental health services fact sheet. Insurance plans usually limit the number of sessions the plan will pay for in a calendar year.

Asking questions

The time you spend with your counselor or therapist is valuable, so it’s O.K. to ask any questions you might have about how therapy works. It’s also fine to ask your counselor about his or her experience and background and approach to counseling. You can ask these questions at your first session, or you can ask them when you first make the appointment. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • What training or experience does the counselor or therapist have?
  • How many sessions does your counselor want you to commit to?
  • How often does your counselor want you to make an appointment?
  • What experience has your counselor had with problems or concerns such as yours?
  • What kind of therapy does your counselor practice? What will sessions be like? 
  • Will your counselor be discussing your case with anyone else?

Deciding to continue your therapy

Within the first few sessions, you need to decide whether you want to continue seeing your counselor or therapist. You will only have your own impressions to rely on. Make sure you feel comfortable enough with the person you are seeing.

If your counselor or therapist does anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, talk to someone you trust about it. For information about who else you could talk with, you may want to check out the Get Help section in the Web site. It is not O.K. for a counselor or therapist to make sexual advances towards you. If you feel that this is happening, it’s important that you talk with someone. This might be a family member, teacher, local doctor or another counselor - or contact a hotline like the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000 1-800-448-3000, where a trained volunteer will listen to your concerns.

More information on finding a therapist

SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator

Last reviewed: May 25, 2009

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  • avatar2

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    Counseling do really help people. It makes them realize their worth as a person. It helps them solve their own problems.

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