What happens in the course of counselling varies from person to person, depending on your goals for counselling and your life circumstances. That being said, for most people counselling follows the same overarching pattern. (Check out this sweet infographic for a visual representation of the process.)
Assessment is where you'll work together with your therapist to determine your goals for counselling, what barriers prevent you from meeting those goals, and how best to address those barriers.
Phase one of counselling is for establishing safety and stabilization. The main reason for this is to make sure that you're ready to do the hard work of therapy - kind of like a runner training for a marathon. This is done externally by making sure you're free from danger (safety) and internally by developing strategies to help you deal effectively with difficult emotions (stabilization).
Phase two of counselling is the processing phase, where you'll work with your therapist to address the root causes of your difficulties. This could range anywhere from changing relationship dynamics to addressing childhood trauma. This tends to be the longest phase of therapy - kind of like running the marathon itself.
Phase three of counselling is reconnection, where you'll work with your therapist to determine how you want your life to look now that you've dealt with what brought you to counselling. This tends to be the shortest and most joyful phase of counselling - kind of like deciding what you want to do after you finish your marathon. Many people don't need counselling for this phase.
There are no shoulds or musts in counselling, so you're not obligated to complete all three phases in the same course of treatment or with the same therapist. For information on how long all this takes, check out our page on how long counselling takes.