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Session Planning vs Tool Kits...Why I Made the Switch

By Emily Hanlon

A few weeks ago, I got a question asking me how I session plan. I shared my response and explained that I don’t actually ‘session plan’ for individual clients anymore, and instead, I use my tool kits. You guys had SO MANY questions about this, so I decided to write a blog post to better explain myself.

When I first graduated, I thought the more I session planned, the better. But here’s the thing, families and kids will often come in and present in a way that is not suitable for what I had planned to do, or they would come in with a significant problem that had occurred during the week that needed to be explored. This mean that all my time session planning had gone to waste, plus it meant that I never felt prepared for my sessions, despite doing a lot of preparation!!

Instead, I decided to organise my resources into different categories. For me, these included: CBT and anxiety, social skills, behaviour and sensory, mindfulness and well-being, self-esteem, and emotional regulation. Now keep in mind, these work best for me, but I am sure you all have different labels in mind for your toolkits.

I separated the games and activities I had into different, clear boxes from Ikea, so I knew exactly what types of activities I had. I then went through all my picture books, workbooks, activity books, and my own resources, and separated them into categories. When they went back on the bookshelf, they were in clearly labelled sections. This made it much easier for me to find what I was after, and also meant that if another clinician borrowed one of my resources, they could put it back exactly where they found it.

So, how does this all work? Let’s say I session planned to engage in worksheets with a child, but they had a big day of school and were very hyperactive. Worksheets would not be appropriate. Instead, I would reach for my social skills activity tool kit, and choose something like a thumb ball. That way, I am still engaging in an activity, but it is one that allows the child to move around the room. It is more appropriate than what I had planned. By having these tool kits organised in my clinic space, I can see how the child presents, and choose activities accordingly. I know where everything is, I know what I need, and I can grab everything quickly without fluffing around and wasting time printing resources.

In the off chance that I do use worksheets with a client, which is not regularly, I use an expandable file and have 5-10 copies of all my favourite worksheets so that I can again reach for them at the last minute without having to fluff around with the printer.

The same goes for my own resources. I keep photocopies of templates (such as the emotion dice or chatterboxes from my At-Home Emotion Activity Workbook, in my toolkits so I can always grab them at a moments notice.

For me, toolkits means that instead of spending two hours a week planning individual sessions, I am spending 30 minutes a week ‘stocktaking’ and printing thing I need, while also replacing used templates/materials. It is a much more efficient way to plan for my clients. It also gives them a much more individualised experience in my sessions. They can see that I am reading their behaviour and body language, and I am listening to what they are saying, and planning the session accordingly.

Check out these photos for more of an idea of how I like to organise things in my clinic space. Please note that everyone is different. There is no right or wrong way to session plan. This is just what works for me and what I find to be most efficient. It also means that I am not purchasing different resources for all my clients. Using tool kits has allowed me to see how my existing resources can be used in so many different ways. It is actually how I created my ‘5 or 5’ rule, which is where I only now buy a resource if I can think of five ways to use it or five clients to use it with!

Let me know if you have any questions!!

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This is absolutely fantastic! I would love to see a list of the items you have in each box. Thank you for this site--it is a wonderful resource.


I'd love to see a list of what is in each box too if possible. It's a great idea and I've started doing this.

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