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  • Brittany Montes, Psy. D.

What Should I Expect in Therapy?

You’ve probably landed on this page because you’ve decided that you’re ready to begin your therapy journey but aren’t entirely sure what to expect. You’ve seen therapy sessions in your favorite movies and television shows, but surely it looks different in real life?

The nuances of therapy and the therapeutic relationship will certainly vary based on the clinician’s style and the patient’s needs. However, certain aspects of the therapeutic process are the same no matter the circumstances. For example, your provider should meet you exactly where you are and walk with you toward your goals. The relationship should be warm, empathetic, and compassionate while also challenging you to grow.

Below, we’ve shared information regarding how CBTC manages the therapeutic process and what to expect when working with clinicians at our practice.

Getting Started:

You’ve made the decision that you’re ready to focus on your mental health and well-being…now what do you do? Here at CBTC, we ask that all patients make contact with our front desk staff by either phone or by completing the information form in the “Contact Us” section of this website.

Our front desk staff will ask you some general questions (i.e. broad symptoms, insurance, therapist preferences) to make sure that we will be a good fit for your needs. Once it is determined that our provider's skills match your needs, they will establish your patient portal account and send you the intake paper:

  • Demographic information


  • Insurance and payment information

  • Consent for treatment

  • Patient history form

  • Screening measures for depression, anxiety, and trauma

  • Authorization to release information

  • Supervisory disclosure and consent (when applicable)

Once this paperwork has been completed, you will be scheduled for your first appointment, often referred to as the intake session.

Intake Session:

The first session can feel a little impersonal as it is designed for gathering information and discussing the mechanics of the therapeutic relationship.

After introductions, your provider will review the limits to confidentiality, practice policies regarding scheduling, late cancellations/missed appointments, and boundaries (I.e. your provider may not be available after a certain time or on weekends).

A majority of the appointment will be focused on gathering your history, presenting concerns, and your goals for treatment. Your provider will ask questions about your medical history, relationships, family relationships, education, substance use, developmental history, educational background, psychiatric history, and current symptoms. Your provider will also explain their theoretical orientation and general approach to therapy and how this may fit your psychiatric needs.

Subsequent Sessions:

Over the course of the first few sessions after your intake session, you and your provider will work together to establish goals and expectations for your time spent in therapy. Additionally, your provider will provide education regarding your diagnosis, treatment options, and prognosis.

The nature of your therapy session will vary based on your specific treatment needs and goals. Some patients prefer and need more solutions-focused sessions that provide them with structure, coping strategies, and homework to accomplish between sessions to address more acute symptoms. Other patients need a more relational and relaxed approach to work through deeper and long-standing concerns.

How Long Will I Be in Therapy?

Many patients wonder how long they will need to participate in treatment in order to feel the benefits. There is no straightforward answer to this question. If you’re presenting for treatment to address mild to moderate, acute, or specific stressors, you may need just a few months of therapy. If you are seeking help to work through historical traumas, chronic mental health concerns, or complex experiences, you will likely find yourself in treatment over a longer period of time.

Ideally, your provider will check in with you regularly to gauge your progress and ongoing goals. In this discussion, you and your provider can jointly decide if ongoing treatment is needed or if you are ready to independently manage your mental health.

In Conclusion:

Making the decision to begin therapy is often difficult and scary. It is especially scary to begin your journey toward better mental health when you are not sure what “typical” therapy sessions look like.

While there are many nuances within the field of psychology and how therapy is conducted, the relationship should always be empathetic, compassionate, and warm. Additionally, you should feel respected and listened to throughout the entirety of your treatment. Your provider should assist you in working toward your goals and achieving sustainable personal growth so that you may live a purpose-filled and meaningful life.

Dr. Montes is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-owner of Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center in Chesapeake, VA.

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