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What Is Individual Therapy?

You may be feeling as if talking to a therapist could benefit you. Maybe you have been feeling down due to a situation you are going through. Maybe you are arguing more with family or friends. Perhaps you are struggling with more serious issues, like panic or anxiety.

You are not alone. In fact, according to Mental Health America, one in five adults have had a mental health problem in the last two years.

You should always consider the issues you are struggling with worthy of help. It is important that you not dismiss your problems, do not consider them less important than other issues, and give them the attention they deserve.

A great place to start healing is with individual counseling.

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What Is Individual Therapy?

Individual counseling is not a weekly event, it is a process through which you can identify and resolve issues in your life that are causing you distress.

Some of these issues may be medical, as in a chemical imbalance. Other issues can be relational or situational. Individual counseling gives you a safe space, with a caring therapist, to help you overcome such obstacles.

The ultimate purpose of individual counseling is to help you achieve positive changes in your life so that you are thinking, feeling and acting more positively.

People Involved

While there may be occasions when you can bring a family member or close friend with you to therapy, most of the sessions include you and your counselor.

There may be a time when your individual therapist feels you could benefit from medication to help you overcome some of your symptoms. If this is the case, your therapist will refer you to a psychiatrist for an evaluation. Only a psychiatrist, or medical doctor, can prescribe medication.

Length of Individual Counseling

As with any type of healing process, the time it takes you will vary from the time it takes others. Some individuals are ready for discharge after four to six weeks, while others take up to a year or longer to complete therapy.

Weekly, you will meet with your counselor for approximately fifty minutes. This hour can be filled with methods and techniques to help you cope with your issues.  Another aspect of individual counseling may include psycho-education and referral resources. 

What to Expect

During each counseling session, your therapist will ask questions and listen to your answers. He or she may also have specific activities, like worksheets or videos, that you can use to further your knowledge on the issues you are struggling with and ideas and solutions of how to overcome them.

This time is given to you, so you can express immediate concerns and learn how to work through them positively, rather than seeking negative coping skills that will only make your situation worse.

Methods of Counseling

The most popular method used by counselors is identified as “talk therapy” or cognitive behavioral therapy. This is just what it says, you talk through the issues affecting how you think, feel or act. There are typically reasons of how negative thoughts, actions and feelings have arisen.

Some people have been abused, others struggle with addiction and yet some are grieving. Everyone’s situation is different, calling for a different method of counseling.

Therapists may use role play, letter writing, art therapy, music therapy and even pet therapy to help you achieve your goals of healing. None of your goals can be met, however, unless you participate in treatment.

The Importance of Participation

You are the focus of your individual therapy. It makes sense that if you do not participate, not many goals will be met. However, if you are open and willing to take part fully in your therapy, you will see results.

There are things you can do to get the most out of your counseling sessions each week. First, show up. If you skip counseling, work cannot begin. Also, show up on time. Counselor’s times are limited, usually fifty minutes for each client. You want to give yourself the most time allowed with your therapist. Showing up on time will help respect you, your therapist and your therapeutic hour. 

Look at counseling sessions as educational opportunities, the material you are studying is you. If you counselor gives you things to work on between sessions, follow through, and report what you have learned.

Focus on what you can do to change your situation, not what other people in your life are doing wrong. While you will do a lot of talking, counseling is more about taking action. Prepare to take action.

Have a positive attitude about the counseling experience. This positive attitude will lead to positive expectations and outcomes. Remember that progress is never immediate. It will take time to heal completely.

Stay focused on your journey. You will reach success if you make the effort.

Finding the right counselor is one of the most important steps in getting treatment. You may have a few limitations, like who your insurance will pay, but for the most part, you should be able to choose the one best for your situation.

Researching therapists is encouraged. You want to find someone who is specialized and trained in the areas in which you need help. For instance, you are grieving over the loss of a loved one, you want to meet with a counselor who specializes in grief therapy.  If you are experiencing panic attacks, you may want to work with a therapist who knows how to specifically work with anxiety.

Obtaining referrals by word of mouth, looking at reviews, looking at websites and asking questions are positive ways to interview possible therapists. I encourage this process until you find the counselor who can help you and you feel comfortable speaking with.  This will allow you to feel confident in your treatment and your ability to heal.


Chris Massman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Agoura Hills, CA. She graduated Phillips Graduate Institute with a Master of Arts in Psychology in 2014 and received her Chemical Dependency Specialty in 2014. Today, she practices Congnitive-behavioral therapy to help individuals, couples, and families identify and overcome a variety of unique challenges.