Key Takeaways

  • Individual therapy is a one-on-one confidential experience with a licensed mental health professional. 
  • In individual therapy, you might discuss relationship or family concerns. But the majority of the focus is always on you. 
  • Individual therapy is a collaborative process. The therapist acts as a guide, offering support and suggestions. But the client is always in the driver’s seat, pacing the conversation and choosing the focus of treatment.

Therapy promotes well-being by providing a judgment-free space to better understand yourself. In having an open and honest dialogue with a trusted provider in a confidential setting, you can unpack challenges and gain insights into what might be driving your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. What’s more, therapy can help you identify and practice new ways of thinking and being and cultivate a deeper sense of self-compassion. 

Contrary to popular belief, therapy isn’t just for those experiencing a crisis or for people with significant mental health concerns. You can enter therapy whenever you want to bolster your sense of self, process mental, behavioral, or emotional challenges, improve your relationships, or strengthen your overall well-being. 

Most people begin their therapy journey with something called individual therapy, which is a one-on-one experience with a mental health professional. 

What is individual therapy?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) therapy (short for “psychotherapy”) is a “psychological service provided by a trained professional that primarily uses forms of communication and interaction to assess, diagnose, and treat dysfunctional emotional reactions, ways of thinking, and behavior patterns.” 

When starting therapy, the challenge often lies in finding the right type of therapy because there are many different formats to choose from. As the names suggest, you can attend couples therapy with a partner(s) relational concerns, or you and your loved ones may attend family therapy to heal the family unit. 

But when most people hear the term “therapy” they usually picture the one-on-one therapy sessions. These private individual sessions allow for a total focus on the client and their evolving needs. 

How does individual therapy work?

The foundation of effective individual therapy is the strength of the relationship between the therapist and client (sometimes referred to as the “therapeutic relationship”). Clients can expect their therapist to maintain a non-judgmental attitude, promoting an atmosphere of trust and acceptance, validating their emotions and experiences.

Therapists do not give advice or issue judgment. Rather, their job is to be an active listener, lead with empathy, and hold space for their client’s experiences. 

The therapist’s role in individual therapy is to act as a guide and to help the client with self-awareness and self-improvement. A therapist can help with things like: 

  • Personal development and growth
  • Achieving goals
  • Improving interpersonal relationships 
  • Managing emotions in a healthier way
  • Improving coping skills

Individual therapy is a collaborative process but ultimately the client remains in the driver’s seat, pacing the speed of the conversation and deciding what feels important to work on. Along the way, the therapist will offer reflections, suggestions, and resources to help the client meet their goals. 

The specific approaches to individual therapy vary from therapist to therapist. Depending on your preferences, needs, and interests, your therapist may incorporate elements of the following. 

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying and changing unhelpful thought patterns that may be driving unwanted behaviors to promote healthier emotional well-being.
  • Person-centered therapy sees people as inherently driven toward positive change and champions empathy and unconditional positive regard from the therapist as key components of effective therapy.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) promotes emotional regulation through mindfulness, self-acceptance, and skill-building (often used in both individual and group therapy settings).
  • Mindfulness techniques foster present-moment awareness by focusing on the breath and drawing attention to what’s happening in the mind, body, and environment in the present moment (without judgment).
  • Narrative therapy encourages individuals to rewrite their personal narrative in a more empowering way and see themselves as the authors of their own stories.
  • Art therapy incorporates a variety of creative outlets (drawing, painting, etc.) to encourage self-expression, self-esteem, emotional resilience, and more.

Is individual therapy right for me?

If you’re new to therapy, individual therapy is a great place to start. You don’t need to have a specific list of personal goals and concerns you want to work on (but if you do, that’s ok too!). All you need is a general sense of what you’d like to improve, a willingness to step outside your comfort zone, and an open mind. 

Many people choose individual therapy because it allows for a fully personalized treatment approach that focuses on your individual strengths and challenges. The one-on-one format encourages self-reflection which can help you crystalize your immediate and long-form goals for treatment. Plus, since you’re the only other person in the session, your therapist can ensure total privacy and confidentiality. This dynamic helps many people feel more comfortable opening up and being vulnerable.

What kinds of concerns does individual therapy address?

If you’ve never attended individual therapy before, you might wonder “What will I talk about?” or “How will it help me?” Rest assured, people seek therapy for all sorts of concerns and there isn’t a right or wrong reason to go. Therapy is an effective treatment for many concerns. Some of the most common issues addressed in individual therapy include:

  • Managing symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression
  • Mitigating the impact of increased stress
  • Coping with the effects of trauma 
  • Dealing with grief and loss
  • Improving self-esteem and self-awareness
  • Navigating life transitions and major decisions

Once you find a therapist you’d like to work with, take some time to prepare for your first session. This session is meant to help you and the therapist get to know one another and to help you decide if you want to continue working with them. 

During this conversation, the therapist will ask you about your history (family, social, health, etc.) so that they have the background information they need to support you. But remember that this is a time for you to ask questions, too. It may be helpful to jot down a list of anything you’d like to inquire about before the session so you don’t forget anything once the conversation gets underway. 

As you begin attending sessions regularly, keep in mind that it might take some time for you to feel the benefits of therapy. There will undoubtedly be some ups and downs in the process. Some people report feeling worse before they feel better. But know that in time, the personal growth that comes from individual therapy will manifest both in and outside the therapy room. 

Ready to find a therapist? Rula can help. 

At Rula, we know that finding the right therapist is a critical step in seeking treatment. So if you think you’re ready to try individual therapy, Rula can help. 

Rula makes it easy to find a licensed therapist in network with your insurance, who’s accepting new clients, and is an expert in caring for your unique needs. And if you decide for any reason that you’d like to try a different provider, we’ll help you with that process too — no questions asked.

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