Client expectations about mental health services relate to the client's and the therapist's role, the therapeutic process and therapeutic outcomes. Research with adults shows that such expectations affect service engagement and clinical outcomes.
Aim: The present study investigated expectations for adolescents and young adults, which have not been adequately investigated and may partly explain the reluctance of young people to seek professional help.
Methods: Participants included 20 young people aged 12–24 attending their initial session at a youth mental health service, who were interviewed immediately prior to their initial session. Data were analysed using qualitative methods to draw main themes around each of the four expectancy types.
Results: Overall, the strongest theme was that young people were unsure of what to expect from attending a mental health service. The key theme for expectations of their role as a client was readiness for therapy, and for the therapist's role the key themes were who they expected to see, the directiveness and likeability of the therapist, and the type of help they expected they would receive. The young people expected that the therapy process would involve simply talking and expected their engagement to be dependent on how much they liked their first few sessions. Outcome expectations were non-specific and the theme of hopefulness was most evident.
Conclusion: As unrealistic and unmet expectations can lead to poorer engagement and outcomes in therapy, the study highlights a need for young people to be better informed about what to expect when coming to mental health services.