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It can be tricky to perfect the dance of time in a new counseling setting. Does a 9:00 a.m. appointment mean counseling starts at 9? Or is a client simply walking in the door at 9? Should a client just talk until the time is up? What about questions? Should a client ask those right away or at the end of a session? Is it okay if a session goes longer than an hour?

These are all good questions and definitely an important component to consider for a meaningful experience. Though a small aspect in the grand scheme of counseling work, timing can be a make or break factor. How can both counselor and client proceed with success? Skilled clinicians typically initiate services by orienting clients to the way counseling flows in their office. This is part of the intake process.  

Traditional offices have a designated check-in counter with support staff for phone calls and foot traffic. Typically this type of office houses several professionals and serves hundreds of patients each day. Commonly for small-business owners, it’s up to the person in the office to fulfill these roles. So . . . what if your therapist is late?

It would be winsome if a routine could succinctly break down with responsibilities between client and therapist. That would so easy, so simple, to categorize in black-and-white who does what when and where and how. Sometimes therapy is a bit like learning to dance; one can take the lead during the intro, though the other party is spotlighted for the chorus, and then the two converge for the bridge. While a professional therapist does hold the bounds for much of what happens in session, a therapist is still a person. And people, well we know people are fallible and that’s why therapy is such an essential in the first place. Preferably, a therapist would arrive at each session on time and end each session on time with grace and a beautiful moment of resolution. Realistically, both parties help one another adhere to the timing.

It’s ideal if both parties help one another adhere to the time.

With a buffer of an agent or three responsible for administrative tasks, it might feel less personal when you’re left waiting . . . or racing. But when you visit a private practice that seems to run as a solo office, it’s understandable that the issue can feel personal.

How is that doctor’s offices are given such leeway with this matter? In most cases, there is a lag between appointment time and being ushered into the office where the doctor will see his or her patient. Typically, a person spends only 10-20 minutes with their medical doctor. Yet . . . mental health providers are expected to spend upwards of 60 minutes with clients. Why is there such a cultural norm to expect less individually from a medical doctor and more from a mental health care professional? When working with your mental health care provider, read the fine print and ask clarifying questions to ascertain how much time each session typically runs. For most mental health providers in Central Texas, this fluctuates between 40 minutes and 55 minutes.

If you have ever experienced your therapist running late, talk with them about it. It might be the perfect opportunity to practice assertive communication or problem-solving. Your therapist is likely to be well-equipped to accept a challenging question without the need to be personally offended. More importantly, however, a counselor you want to keep will have an open conversation about how this has impacted you and a resolution at hand. At the very least, a good-faith effort, by either party, to address and correct any issue in the counseling session is essential for personal and professional growth.

Have you ever experienced a counselor who was late? Share in the comments your thoughts about timeliness in the counseling room.

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