You’ve admitted that you need help. You’re tired of dealing with the same issues and you’re ready and eager for a change. But, you’re at a challenging crossroads. You want to gain from therapy but you also want to make sure you don’t waste your time or your money.
Whether you’re scheduling your very first appointment or reeling from another seemingly unsatisfactory session, successful therapy requires diligence and effort from both parties. As it turns out, your treatment outcomes aren’t dependent on pure luck or randomness. There are a few concrete steps you can take to truly get the most from therapy.
Identify One (Or More) Goals Ahead of Time
No, you don’t need a specific reason or formal diagnosis to enter therapy. You only need the awareness that you want something in your life to change or improve. That said, you do benefit from having some structured framework of what you want to address.
Knowing your goals for entering therapy serves many purposes. For one, it helps therapists orient their approach to best serve your needs. Moreover, it allows you to prioritize your time in sessions to address the issues most pertinent to your success. Rather than talking about every problem that surfaces you’ll know to pay the most attention to the ones impeding your goals.
Remember that goals can and do evolve, and this change is normal. For example, you may initially enter therapy to work on burnout at work. In time, however, you may realize that you are actually dealing with serious depression.
Write Down What You Want To Discuss Before Each Session
This suggestion may seem counterintuitive. After all, shouldn’t your therapist know what you need to talk about? Or shouldn’t the material organically rise in the session when the time is right?
In theory that would be great. However, in reality even the most self-aware clients draw a blank the moment after sitting down for the session. There are many reasons for this ‘forgetfulness.’ You may feel nervous. Your thoughts may feel disorganized and scattered. Or, you may just be distracted by the events that occurred just before arriving.
Regardless, writing down different topics during the week can help you stay on track during your sessions. The documentation will help jog your memory when it’s time to talk. Furthermore, you can get right down to business.
Be Honest With Your Therapist
Therapy is a two-way relationship that requires true honesty, mutual respect and open communication from both parties. To get the most from therapy, it is important to remember that even the best clinicians can make mistakes during the treatment process!
What does it mean for a therapist to make a mistake? For one, they may assume something about your life that is incorrect. They may inadvertently make a comment that feels offensive or abrasive. Or perhaps, they may arrive a few minutes late one day and the infraction makes you feel insignificant or unimportant.
Mistakes happen and seasoned therapists know how to address them in a healthy manner. However, you also hold responsibility for speaking up when you feel uncomfortable, agitated or confused by your therapist. Harboring these feelings may lead to resentment and distrust, both of which can rupture your relationship.
While sharing your feelings may feel frightening, this vulnerability can create a valuable space that can actually strengthen your work. I ask all my clients to let me know when I’ve done or said something they don’t like. When clients actually do tell me, it always leads to a very productive conversation and also allows us to work it out and move forward.
Commit To The Work Outside Of Therapy
An hour-long therapy session hardly compares to the 168 hours we experience each week. Even if you practice utmost honesty and vulnerability in your therapy sessions, you won’t notice profound progress if you aren’t willing to initiate healthy change.
Successful therapy means integrating what you’ve learned and implementing that insight into your daily life. For example, merely talking about your anxiety isn’t enough. To actually cope with it you must put the action-based skills into practice.
Of course, the work is always easier said than done. Even positive and healthy change can feel intimidating. You may worry that even your best efforts won’t work. You may have tried certain strategies in the past with limited success.
That said, listening to the suggestions in therapy is one thing. Following through with them is where the healing truly happens.
Keep Going Even When You Want to Stop
Therapy often feels like a roller coaster ride. Some sessions breeze along smoothly and other sessions are stomach dropping, hang on for dear life emotional whirlwinds. You may tell yourself you don’t want to get back on the ride when it feels like that!
But here’s the thing - those tough sessions are often where the real growth and change happens. If you are willing to go to your next session, tell your therapist how you’ve been feeling and process through the emotions, you will gain tremendously. Yes, therapy is hard work but on the other side of all that hard work is the life you want to live.
Get The Most From Therapy
By setting positive intentions and committing to the change process, you’ll be maximizing your efforts to get the most from therapy. Remember that the work can feel like a dance of trial-and-error. You must trust the process for the recovery to unfold.
Ready to make the first step towards meaningful change? I’m here for you.