A Counselling Contract - Is it Really Necessary?

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Just started therapy for the first time, and wondering if you’re supposed to have a counselling contract? Or switched therapists, been asked to sign a contract when you only had a verbal agreement in the past, and not sure what to think?

What is a counselling contract?

A counselling contract is an agreement you make with your therapist to create a safe, professional, and clearly defined experience between you.

In your first session with a therapist you will discuss what therapy involves, as well as housekeeping rules around payments, attendance, mutual respect, privacy, etcetera. This is considered a verbal contract.

Many therapists also reaffirm this information with a written contract, which tends to be two pages at most.

Why do I need a written therapy contract?

With short-term therapies, you are often asked to sign a contract about the time commitment you are making. It will clarify how many sessions you'll be doing, and over what time window. This is the case with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Otherwise, a written counselling contract acts as a way to make indisputably clear how your therapy will be carried out, and what boundaries are in place between you and your therapist.

And as a legal document, in the rare instance there was a dispute around payment, your behaviour, or the ethics of the therapy or therapist, a written contract makes your rights and your therapist's rights clear.

As well as creating a safe, clear container for you to work in, a written contract helps you recognise the commitment you have made and take it seriously.

What does a counselling contract contain?

There aren’t actually any rules around what a written counselling contract must be or discuss. In general, though, it will contain some or all of the following:

The practical aspects of the work you’ll be doing:

  • location of sessions
  • length of each session
  • number of sessions
  • frequency of appointments
  • total duration you’ll be working together
  • contact details for your therapist
  • boundaries around contact outside of sessions.

Missed sessions:

  • what to do if you are sick or indisposed
  • time limits for you to cancel a session and receive a refund
  • notice your therapist commits to giving before cancelling
  • what will happen if your therapist must cancel a session
  • how rescheduling works.

Financial information:

  • how much each session costs
  • how payment can be made and when it needs to be made by
  • when and how you can be refunded the cost of a session.


  • what sort of record keeping and note taking could be used
  • how your personal information is protected
  • what situations would lead your therapist to breach this privacy
  • if your therapist has a supervisor they will share limited information with
  • expected conduct in the case of accidental encounters outside of sessions.

Ending therapy:

  • how you can terminate your work with your therapist
  • what could cause your counselling to be terminated by your therapist
  • ethical boundaries that could lead to termination
  • professional bodies you can complain to if you feel there is reason to.

Information about your therapist:

The nature of the therapy that will be carried out:

  • the type of therapy or therapies you’ll be working with
  • what that might include, such as homework
  • if there will be occasional reviews of the work you do together
  • the proposed goals of the therapy
  • how it might affect you in the short and long term.

Do I have to sign a therapy contract?

There isn’t a law in the UK that you have to sign a contract to do talk therapy. It’s up to your individual therapist to decide if they are willing to carry out therapy without a written contract in place.

But what if I’m only doing therapy online?

A written contract is still a good idea. It serves the same purpose as one you make for seeing your therapist in person. You can receive the contract over email and use an electronic signature. Otherwise, you could always ask to record your first session where you make a verbal contract.

My therapist hasn’t offered a contract. What do I do?

If you would like to have a written counselling contract and your talk therapist hasn’t bought the issue up, but has only made a verbal contract with you? Don’t feel embarrassed to ask for one. You are the paying customer, it's within your rights to have one. And if it helps you to feel safer working together, then it’s only a positive for the therapist, too.

Ready to try therapy with a professional, registered therapist and a trusted, ethical company ? Use our easy booking tool now.

Andrea M. Darcy is a health researcher and writer with training in coaching and counselling who also coaches people on planning their therapy journey. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy

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