What do talking therapies involve?

Find out what might happen during a talking therapy session, how long they tend to last and the confidentiality relationship between a client and a therapist.

Talking therapies: counselling, psychotherapy, CBT
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What happens during a talking therapy session?


Talking therapies can involve a number of regular face-to-face sessions. Each usually lasts for an hour, but can be shorter. There is an initial assessment during which the therapist will obtain an idea of the problem and some background information about the person. The therapist will then agree on a therapy plan with the person.


It is also possible to receive certain talking therapies, such as counselling and CBT, over the telephone or online.

If someone is having CBT, they will agree to do 'homework' between sessions to help reinforce what is learnt in the session and to try out new ideas. This may include keeping a diary or filling out 'thought records'. It may also include practising breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.

How long do talking therapy sessions last?

There is no standard length of time for a course of therapy. The number of sessions required will depend on the type of problem, the type of therapy, how it is delivered (eg face-to-face or by phone) and who is providing the therapy (eg NHS therapist, private therapist or charity). Some people get everything they need from one session or from just a few. Others may require counselling or psychotherapy over a much longer period of time, for months or, more rarely, years. CBT usually involves a programme of 5-20 sessions.

Are talking therapy sessions confidential?

Successful therapy depends very much on the development of a trusting relationship between the therapist and the client. It is therefore important that people work with a therapist whose approach and manner they are comfortable with. The relationship between a client and a therapist is confidential. This means that what is discussed during therapy will not generally be disclosed to anyone else. However, there are some exceptions to this which should be discussed during the first meeting. For example, someone with dementia may - with their consent - be supported by a family member in the sessions.