Leave contracts out of the first session

Many therapists set explicit goals and use treatment contracts with their clients. Goal setting provides a focus for therapy: contracts indicate that both parties have agreed to the terms of the therapy (or should: the contract you use does bind the therapist as well as the client, doesn’t it?)

Some therapists aim to conclude this business by the end of the first session. While this gives a nice structure to therapy (1st session: agree goals, 2nd session: work toward goals), this may not be the best way forward.

Setting goals and signing a treatment contract is a big step for a client. Although clients may have been awaiting their first appointment for weeks, months, even years, the assessment process may bring to light new information and perspectives which could alter their aims significantly…given time to think things through.

Requiring a commitment in the first session turns the therapist from supporter or facilitator into high pressure salesman. The pressure is on both the client (to sign on the dotted line) and the therapist (to get that signature), impeding their budding rapport.

Giving a commitment in the first session places the client in an awkward position should they change their mind once they’ve had more time to think. For an anxious or unassertive person, the prospect of “disappointing” their therapist may be enough to force non-attendance

Financial contracts have a cooling off period: a chance for those involved to reconsider and withdraw without prejudice.

If you explain to the client that “the first session is for my benefit, to see what we could work on: the second session is when we will decide what we will focus upon”, the pressure is reduced.

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