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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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