What is single-session therapy?

Emily Whitton
By Emily Whitton,
updated on Apr 20, 2023

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If you’re experiencing a problem that you want to address quickly, single-session therapy could be for you. We look at what it is and how it can help

Is there something troubling you that you want to get a hold of quickly? Perhaps you’re worried about an upcoming exam or event, or you’re looking for a quick confidence boost. Single-session therapy aims to address specific concerns in one session, providing you with relief at a time of need.

What is single-session therapy?

Single-session therapy (SST) is based on the solution-focused model of therapy, meaning it is brief and offers short-term support and guidance. This approach is designed to help people work through a specific problem quickly, so it can be incredibly effective for those who are feeling a little stuck or have lost their direction in life.

Given its short-term nature and that clients don’t have to pay for multiple sessions, SST has risen in popularity in recent years. Single-session therapy offers people the chance to dip their toes into counselling, to see if therapy is right for them. It’s also a great technique for those who lead busy lives and may not have the time to commit to multiple sessions.

Who can it help?

Single-session therapy can help anybody looking for extra support to overcome a problem. The therapist will provide guidance and resources for the individual to take away and implement on their own, so it’s most effective when the client comes prepared with an idea of what they want to achieve from the session.

SST may also be better suited to people who’d like extra time to work on change - to experiment with the tools provided - which can’t always be achieved with regular therapy sessions, according to counsellor Cate Campbell.

What can SST help with?

It’s important to note that some concerns cannot be addressed in one session alone, whilst for other problems, one session may be all that’s needed. Your therapist will advise you as to whether you may benefit from regular check-ins.

Some examples of what SST can help with include:

  • improving communication skills
  • establishing coping mechanisms to manage anxiety
  • supporting during times of change
  • finding ways to boost confidence
  • navigating a new career
  • working through a relationship difficulty

Find out more about what you can bring to single-session therapy.

Finding a professional

If any of the above resonates with you and you’d like to give single-session therapy a try, it’s important to know what to look for when booking an appointment.

“Not all therapists have had the training to work on a short-term basis, so look out for those who specifically offer this or mention 'brief' or solution-focused therapy in their profile”, Cate says.

“Also, make sure that the therapist you pick is sufficiently trained and experienced to work with your issues. For instance, if you’re a couple, look for someone with a qualification in relationship therapy. The more experience they have, the more able they will be to evaluate your needs. If it isn’t clear from their website entry that they’ll be able to help, do ask.”

What to expect from an SST session

As mentioned, it’s really beneficial that you come to your session with an idea of what you want to get out of it. This means both you and the counsellor will have an agreed focus and your session will be specifically tailored to you and your needs. In their article, ‘Single session therapy: Helping you get back on track, counsellor Jennifer Warwick explains that this style of therapy helps to identify useful resources, evaluate what works (and what doesn’t) and come up with a future plan.

“The session is a collaborative process, where you work together with your therapist to create a plan for change.”

Despite the name, single-session therapy doesn’t limit you to attending just one session. You may decide that you’d like to come back occasionally to monitor your progress and check in with your counsellor/therapist.

Whilst SST may not be the most effective therapy in supporting complex mental health concerns, its prowess in helping people within a short space of time clearly has something to show for its popularity. So, if you’re undecided about whether counselling is right for you, why not give single-session therapy a try?

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