Talking treatments

Explains what talking treatments are used for, what happens during therapy and how to find a therapist.

Your stories

The importance of choice – access to talking therapies

Al blogs for us about the importance of choice and having access to the right talking therapy to suit you.

Posted on 02/12/2013

Life in limbo – waiting for talking therapy

Francesca blogs about the impact of waiting for talking therapy, as part of our We Need to Talk campaign.

Posted on 28/11/2013

On my therapist, who was always there

Brooke blogs on how important it was for to have one person she could turn to throughout her recovery.

Posted on 09/03/2017

What should I know before starting a talking treatment?

On this page you can find information about:

Am I ready for therapy?

Although many people can benefit from talking treatments, not everyone finds it helpful. You might find that it just doesn't suit you, or doesn't meet your needs at the current time. Before deciding to have therapy, it might be helpful to think about the following:

  • Do I want to talk to a therapist about something that is troubling me or would like professional help with? Therapy can involve talking to a therapist about anything that is confusing, painful or uncomfortable that you would like help with.
  • Am I comfortable talking about my feelings? Therapy can involve becoming aware of your anxieties and emotions. Initially, you may find this process uncomfortable or distressing.
  • Is there anything I need help with before starting therapy? You may find there are situations or problems you want help with before you feel able to consider therapy. See our A-Z of mental health for more information about different mental health problems and support options.

It is essential that you are ready for therapy. It is also important that you feel at ease with the person running it.

What can I ask them?

You can ask your therapist questions about your treatment or their approach at any point before you start therapy, during it, or when you end. When starting a talking treatment, you may want to ask about:

If you are thinking of seeing a therapist privately, see our page on private treatment for more information about questions you may want to ask.

Your therapist's qualifications

It's good practice for a therapist to be a member of a professional body, such as the BACP, BABCP, the UKCP or the British Psychological Society (BPS). You can ask them about their professional qualifications and training. You can also check these with their professional body, whose websites have details of what membership means and any ethical guidelines their members must adhere to.

I had to know everything before I felt okay to talk to my therapist. I wanted to know everything about how he trained so I trusted that he knew what he was doing.

What should the therapist tell me about?

Your therapist should tell you about the talking treatment they are offering you – this is called informed consent. You should expect to be told about:

  • what the treatment involves
  • the benefits and risks involved
  • any alternatives
  • what will happen if the treatment doesn't go ahead.

Your therapist should also work with you to develop an agreement or 'contract' of how you would both like the sessions to work. This may include agreeing about:

  • Frequency of sessions – when they will take place and for how long. See our page about therapy sessions for more information about how sessions can be structured, how long they last and where they might take place.
  • Payment – if you're paying for therapy, you may agree how you can pay, how much and when.
  • Confidentiality and consent – what rules they have about consent and confidentiality, and when the therapist may need to break confidentiality.

Having your say in your treatment

Making decisions about your treatment should be a conversation, involving both you and your health care professionals. This is sometimes called shared decision making. You should expect to have a say in what treatments you receive. See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem for more information about how to have your say in treatment and make yourself heard.

Is it confidential?

Therapy is always confidential, and this is an important part of the working relationship between you and the therapist, making it safe for you. However, there are some exceptions, which allow the therapist to work responsibly. For example:

  • Supervisions – therapists always discuss clients regularly with a supervisor (an experienced therapist who is qualified to provide supervision) who also has to maintain confidentiality. Supervision is an essential part of the work and it's seen as unethical for a therapist to work without it because:
    • it helps your therapist look after their own mental health, so they're better able to support you
    • it means there is an impartial third party who is aware of how your therapist is treating you, and can make sure that your treatment is effective and appropriate.
  • Safety – if, under any circumstances, the therapist is concerned that you are at serious risk of harming yourself or someone else, they may need to inform your GP, health care professional or someone else.
  • Organisational confidentiality – if your therapist is working as part of a GP practice, confidentiality may apply to the practice as a whole rather than to the individual therapist. This may mean that information is available to your GP. If this is the case, the therapist should make it clear to you at the start.


This information was published in February 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

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