What to Expect in Counseling

January 3, 2010

If you haven’t been in therapy before, you might have some questions about what to expect.

Each therapist and office has their own approach to getting you started in therapy.  Here is a description of what you can generally expect at Hoover and Associates, although it may vary from client to client, based on your needs.

Setting up a Counseling Appointment

Usually a client will call us at 708-429-6999 to schedule an appointment, although some clients contact us through our website contact page.  If you have any questions, this is a good opportunity for you to ask them, and to get directions to our office.

If for some reason we conclude that we cannot help you, then we will assist you in finding someone who can.

What to Bring to Your First Session

When you come in for your first appointment at 16325 S. Harlem Ave, Suite 200, in Tinley Park, you will need to bring:

Registration Paperwork

When you first come to our office you will need to be here about  15 minutes early, so that you can fill out our opening paperwork, unless you’ve already printed your registration packet online and filled it out.


First Session

At some point during the first session, your clinician will want to make sure you are in agreement about payment arrangements, have the necessary forms signed, and that you get answers to any questions you may have about counseling in general.

Part of the opening paperwork is for you to sign any releases of information.  This is voluntary except in the case of Medicare, which requires us to communicate with your primary care provider.  It is customary for therapists to communicate with their clients’ primary care providers, psychiatrists, and/or school personnel (only with your written permission of course).  If there is anyone else you would like your clinician to communicate with, you would need to give your written permission for that as well.  Therefore, it would be helpful if you had their contact information with you.

Once this sort of paperwork is done, you can start in on your intake evaluation.

Intake Evaluation

During the intake evaluation, your clinician will start getting to know you and your needs.  They will ask for an overview of what brings you in, and how you are coping with it.  They may ask about your current stressors, symptoms, and coping methods.  Then they may move on to more general information about you, your relationships, and your background.

The intake evaluation can take anywhere from one to four sessions, depending on your communication style and the complexity of your issues.  If you are coming in for couples therapy, the intake may include joint sessions as well as individual sessions.  Also, if you have brought your child in for treatment, the intake process may involve not only your child, but also you or other family members (depending on your child’s age and some other factors).

From the intake evaluation, your clinician can make an initial diagnosis and recommendations.  And please remember, if you ever have any questions, feel free to ask them during any session.

When you’re done with the intake evaluation, you and your clinician will decide on a treatment plan.

Treatment Planning

Clinicians vary in their approach to this.  Some are relatively formal, using structured/written treatment plans.  Others are relatively informal, making a verbal agreement and plan.

This is your opportunity to express your priorities about what needs to be addressed, to talk about how you’d like to approach your problems in therapy, and to set goals.  This is also when you will agree on how often you want to meet, and how long you intend to work together.  Length of treatment depends on the nature and severity of your issues and on your preference.  Usually a therapist and client will plan to check in about their progress in a given amount of time (they will do a periodic treatment plan review) at which point you can decide whether and how to continue.

Keep in mind that all services are voluntary, and you can decide to stop at any time.  However it is usually necessary to attend at least 6-8 sessions to see meaningful results.  Often, more time is needed.  For issues that have been developing over a lifetime, and for chronic conditions, treatment may last years.


Because each person (or couple, or family) is unique, the psychotherapy treatment provided will be individually tailored.  Clinicians draw on many psychological theories and use a variety of techniques, depending on what they believe is most appropriate and effective in each case.  You can get a flavor of each clinician’s approach to therapy by reading their profiles on this website.

Keep in mind that treatment is a collaborative process.  It is not something that the therapist does to you or for you.  It is something you and the therapist do together.  Indeed, much therapy work happens between sessions, as you observe yourself, think about things, and apply ideas and suggestions from therapy.  Also, it is helpful if you have an idea of what you’d like to focus on in each session.

Treatment Plan Review

Periodically, you and your clinician will review your treatment plan, discuss your progress, and adjust your goals or approach if necessary.

For many people, the problems that bring them into therapy have been developing over many years, if not their whole life.  Therapy does help, but it is usually a gradual process and it may take time.  Most people go through several treatment plans before they feel they’re ready to stop.  If you have been in therapy for a long time, and feel that you want to continue but need a break, you can arrange a “therapy vacation” for a pre-determined amount of time, like a month, or season.  Or if you feel up to it, you can take a break from therapy, and return if/when you need to.

The treatment plan review is also a good opportunity for you to give your therapist feedback about their work.  It is okay (even important) to let your therapist know if you are uncomfortable with their approach or suggestions.  Also, let your therapist know if they are focusing on something that is not a priority for you, or if they are not supportive enough or challenging you enough.  When you give your therapist feedback, it helps them to adjust their therapy style so that it is more helpful to you.

Ending Treatment

As you start to feel better, get control over your life, and need less support, you will reduce the frequency of treatment.  Usually people start out meeting weekly, at some point they switch to every other week, then possibly have a few sessions at once per month, and then stop treatment.  If you prefer not to take this gradual approach, and decide to suddenly end treatment, it is a good idea (and it is customary) to meet one last time for a closing session, and talk about your reasons for stopping, what you’ve gotten out of therapy so far, what other support systems you have available, and how you plan to manage your issues independently.

Resuming Treatment

After finishing therapy, you may at some point feel the need for a “booster session” or two, just to help keep yourself on track with your goals.  Or, you might run into a tough situation, and need a little extra support for several weeks.  Also, some people find it helpful to have several “rounds” of therapy throughout their lives.  Different issues may come up in different circumstances, or you may see things from a new perspective as you grow and learn throughout life.

At some point, it may be helpful to see the same therapist again, even years after your initial treatment, simply because they already know you.  But then again, a new therapist might be able to approach your issues from a new angle.  Knowing that it is normal to participate in therapy more than once can help people feel comfortable with seeking therapy when they need it.

The kind of work people do in therapy is never really done.  People continually strive to cope with challenging situations, to grow, to resolve old issues, and to find satisfaction and wellness in life.  Much of this kind of work is not necessarily done in therapy.  There are many other sources of guidance and inspiration as well.  It is our sincere hope that your therapy experience with us will be one of the many ways that you can move your life in a positive direction.

In Conclusion

We hope this gives anyone new to counseling an idea of what to expect.  If you have any further questions, or to make an appointment, feel free to call us at 708-429-6999.

Hoover & Associates’ team of licensed psychologists, counselors, and social workers is here to offer you help and guidance. We’ve been providing mental health services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago since 1985. We’re conveniently located at 16325 S. Harlem Ave., Suite 200 (2nd floor), Tinley Park, IL, 60477. Our offices are conveniently located near Orland Park, Orland Hills, Homer Glen, Mokena, Frankfort, Matteson, Country Club Hills, Flossmoor, Homewood, Hazel Crest, Markham, Oak Forest, Midlothian, Crestwood, Palos Heights, Palos Park, and Palos Hills. Call to make an appointment: 708-429-6999.
Categories: ,