What You Should Expect From Psychological Therapy

What do you think happens in therapy? What have you been told about it? What have you read about it? If you went today, what would be your goals? In this article, we're going to debunk some of the myths surrounding therapy and give you a realistic idea of what to expect.
What You Should Expect From Psychological Therapy
María Vélez

Written and verified by the psychologist María Vélez.

Last update: 08 April, 2023

One of the most confusing issues for people facing psychological therapy is that they don’t know what to expect from it. Indeed, t here are far too many ideas and conjectures about how it’s carried out. Furthermore, tales from people who’ve been in therapy can also intensify the confusion. For this reason, before making an appointment with a psychologist, it’s important to know what psychological therapy really entails.

Within the field of psychology, there are a wide variety of approaches that determine the strategies and approach of therapy. As a rule, psychological therapy is the set of techniques applied by a psychology professional to improve an individual’s quality of life.

In this article, we hope to clarify what psychological therapy consists of, what you can expect from it, and how you should deal with it.

Psychological therapy

As mentioned above, psychological therapy is based on the application of a series of techniques and strategies that improve people’s lives. Its objective is to teach and train ways to solve, face, and manage problems with adaptive behaviors and dynamics. In other words, the aim is for the individual to acquire resources to solve their difficulties autonomously and independently. These resources should integrate aspects of their behavior, emotions, and kind of thinking. For example, they learn to identify the thoughts that lead to the kind of emotions that provoke a panic attack.

As a consequence, psychological therapy must be adapted to the needs of each individual and the problem in question. It’s worth remembering that the opinions and experiences of other people who’ve undergone therapy may not be particularly relevant. That’s because every individual is different, consequently, the effects of treatments also vary.

How does it work?

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of psychological therapy is the relationship of trust between the therapist and the client/patient. Thanks to this relationship, they’ll be able to communicate their concerns, expectations, and difficulties in a sincere way. This means the therapist will be able to understand the problem in a global way.

The next essential step is for the therapist to conduct an assessment. This will focus on the aspects that the client/patient has indicated they find problematic. Once the intensity of the problem has been identified and a diagnosis has been made, the therapist and client/patient jointly establish a series of objectives and the way in which they’ll work on them.

Later, throughout the therapeutic process, the appropriate and agreed techniques will be applied. Over time, the usefulness and effectiveness of these strategies will be reviewed. For instance, if it’s observed that a certain technique isn’t achieving good results, an alternative way of dealing with it can be found.

What you should expect from psychological therapy

Taking into account the above, what can you expect from psychological therapy? What will be expected of you?

Help and information

Psychological therapy is a source of help, a guide. What you find in a therapist is a person who offers their knowledge, time, and resources to reduce your feelings of discomfort. Therefore, you can expect that, from the first appointment, the therapist will be friendly and helpful, and provide you with all the information you need.

In addition, you can expect that they’ll give you support to achieve certain objectives, based on proven techniques. However, they won’t provide you with a foolproof formula and you’ll inevitably have to make some changes and adjustments throughout the whole process.

It’s not only about talking

When talking about psychological therapy, the first image that tends to come to mind is a room and two people talking. Nevertheless, although talking is a powerful tool in psychology, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, in psychological therapy, other techniques can and should be used.

Sometimes, these techniques will demand your involvement beyond the therapy session. Therefore, you might be given some form of homework for the next session. For instance, making a record of any uncomfortable situations or thoughts. On other occasions, in the session, you might undertake some practical training to learn a useful technique. For instance, relaxation training.

The therapist may even make use of technology to work on specific aspects. For instance, virtual reality in systematic desensitization. This might be used if you have a phobia of heights. Computer programs can also be used in cognitive training.

Continuous work

As we’ve already mentioned, you mustn’t expect psychological therapy to provide a magical solution. In fact, you should expect just the opposite. That’s because, for therapy to be effective and to achieve the greatest possible benefits, you must work continuously.

This work is especially important for you as a client/patient since the ultimate goal is for you to acquire a series of skills and resources that you can use independently at any time and in any situation. Therefore, you must work constantly to learn and integrate these strategies. Without this work, it won’t be possible to advance and you won’t have much to offer your therapist. Consequently, they’ll find it difficult to help you.

Specific goals and tasks

Everything you undertake in therapy is part of an intervention with a specific objective. For instance, it might be to reduce your anxiety and for you to learn how to prevent it. For this reason, although it’s sometimes necessary to explore different areas to understand a problem, all the activities you carry out should be justified and directed toward that goal.

This can help you realize your progress and become motivated, as well as help the therapist identify when to start spacing sessions further apart, or even bring your therapy to a close. Having this clear in your mind can also be useful to know if you’re in the hands of the right professional.  After all, if the therapy is endless, it’ll make you feel uncomfortable. Furthermore, you might find yourself carrying out tasks that don’t contribute anything to your situation. Or, that you’re not really working on anything particularly relevant in the sessions. If this is the case, you should think about changing your therapist, or at least mention the issue to them.

What you shouldn’t expect from psychological therapy

In short, in psychological therapy, you learn to manage a problem effectively. Therefore, you mustn’t expect a quick fix, as learning takes time. It means facing painful situations, reflecting on them, and changing your lifelong thoughts and habits. You shouldn’t expect it to be easy or that it’ll make your life a bed of roses.

On the other hand, nor should you adopt the attitude that it won’t work for you. If you think in this way, it certainly won’t be successful.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Echeburúa, E., & Corral, P. D. (2001). Eficacia de las terapias psicológicas: de la investigación a la práctica clínica. Revista Internacional de Psicología clínica y de la salud1(1), 181-204.
  • Echeburúa, E., Corral Gargallo, P. D., & Salaberría, K. (2010). Efectividad de las terapias psicológicas: Un análisis de la realidad actual.
  • Mañas, I. (2007). Nuevas terapias psicológicas: La tercera ola de terapias de conducta o terapias de tercera generación. Gaceta de psicología40(1), 26-34.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.