A man in a counselling session

What happens in a counselling session?

Pen Dr Sarah O'Neill Glasses 5 min read

Why is counselling beneficial?

Counselling or therapy can be beneficial for many different reasons. Dr O’Neill believes that everyone will take something different away from the experience. “Counselling can provide a space where people can work through emotional distress. It can provide tools and resources to help them deal with situations differently.”

Contrary to popular opinion, counselling can be preventative instead of reactive. “Overall engaging with mental health supports is really important in trying to prevent issues affecting our mental health,” she explains.


What happens during a typical counselling session?

The important thing to remember is every counselling session will be different, it depends on the client, therapist and therapeutic approach. However, Dr O’Neill says there are often similarities.

“Going to a counselling session is essentially sitting down in a room and talking to a professional,” she explains.

Thanks to advances in technology, it is now possible to talk to a professional over the phone or via video platforms. Dr O’Neill believes that this is an important step forward.

“As we realise as a society that we all have mental health and wellbeing and we need to look after it, it allows us to engage with services in a different way.”

Our 24/7 Mental Wellbeing Support Programme is a great example of how technology is helping people to access mental wellbeing services through different mediums whether that's face-to-face, over the phone or online. The programme provides a confidential service designed to provide instant support, as well as long-term solutions for any issues that users may be facing.

“You can pick up the phone 24/7, 365 days a year and talk to a mental health professional. It’s all about having that conversation,” Dr O’Neill enthuses.


When should you talk to a counsellor?

There is a common misconception that you should only talk to a professional when you have reached rock-bottom. However, Dr O’Neill believes that people can benefit from counselling at any time in their lives.

“Early intervention is associated with the best outcomes. Counselling doesn’t always have to be ongoing, long-term work. It can just be a way to make sure that you’re doing okay.

“Counselling can be about self-development. If you’re really scared of presenting, for example, there are groups out there that can help you work on presentation skills. Talking to a mental health professional will help you to get some tips and tricks and ways of dealing with the anxiety. It can be about upskilling if you like.”


How long do counselling sessions usually last?

Again, this is can vary. Most counselling sessions usually lasts 50 minutes. However, sessions can vary depending on the approach and issue at hand.

“In general, it will last the guts of an hour,” states Dr O’Neill. “A counsellor will use 50 minutes to sit in a room with someone and then spend 10 minutes taking notes and doing admin.”

Can you change counsellor if they don't feel like the right fit?

In order to open up and discuss your problems, you need to feel at ease. So, what do you do if you just can’t bond with your counsellor? Dr O’Neill recommends talking about the problem.

“We would always encourage clients to try and have a conversation with their mental health care provider. It’s a great way of practicing those awkward conversations. It takes time for trust to build as well.

“If you really don’t feel like that conversation has brought you to a place where you can work with that person then move on.”


Is the hard work done in the session?

“Some therapeutic approaches are quite task-orientated,” explains Dr O’Neill. “Clients are given things to try out before the next session. In other approaches, it isn’t so structured. Counselling should give you something to reflect on and consider. It should give you food for thought.”

So, while you won’t always have set tasks to complete each week, you might spend some time reflecting on what you have talked about during your session or even noticing how talking about something and expressing yourself in a different way might have made a difference.

 The key message to take away is, “The sooner you talk to someone the better,” she explains. “If there’s something that you can identify, an external issue that is causing you stress, try and address that. Make sure you’re talking to people you can trust, professional services, life coaches, career guidance professionals and mental health professionals.”

Sinead Proos, Head of Wellbeing at Laya Healthcare, echoes her sentiment. The company promotes a holistic and proactive approach towards mental health.

“At Laya Healthcare we firmly believe in preventative care, that’s why we offer all our members instant and constant support to a confidential 24/7 Mental Wellbeing Support Programme.

“We give our members the opportunity and tools to take care of their mental wellbeing and the ability to reach out to qualified counsellors and experts in different fields such as legal and financial planning, offering them support to manage any personal issues they might be facing.”


Our 24/7 Mental Wellbeing Support Programme is available to all members over the age of 16. For more information visit https://www.layahealthcare.ie/yourbenefits/mentalwellbeingsupport/


Laya Healthcare, looking after you always. 

Insurance is provided by Elips Insurance Limited trading as Laya Healthcare. Laya Healthcare Limited, trading as Laya Healthcare and Laya Life, is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

Research was carried out by Empathy Research on behalf of laya healthcare amongst 1,000 Irish adults aged 18+ in August 2018.




Dr Sarah O'Neill

Dr Sarah O’Neill is a chartered psychologist, MD of Spectrum Mental Health and director of Spectrum Wellness. Sarah completed her studies and doctoral training in Trinity College Dublin. Sarah has worked clinically with individuals across the life span in a diversity of settings (including community, general hospital and psychiatric in-patient settings), in both the public and private sector. Sarah currently works in a management role in the private sector as MD of Spectrum Mental Health and director of Spectrum Wellness – splitting her time between clinical practice, clinical governance at a service level, and supporting our MH teams who work with our service users (individuals and company clients). Sarah is passionate about increasing understanding and awareness around mental health, decreasing barriers to accessing support and services, and ensuring evidence based, clinically robust services are delivered across all sectors of our business.