Posted on June 16, 2020
Looking to get the most out of therapy? Read on to learn what you can do as a patient to get the most out of each session.
Once people decide to start therapy treatment, it’s a big deal. It’s a fairly major commitment in time, emotional space, and often, financial means. Because patients make so much room for therapy in their lives, it’s natural to assume they want to make sure it’s worth the investment.
While you can rely on a therapy matching service, like Advekit, to place you with the right therapist, you’ll still need to go in with an open mind and be ready to be in the work. If you want to get the most out of your sessions and have an effective outcome, you’ll need to put in the time, energy, and self-introspection. Unfortunately, the unknowns of therapy cause some to feel that they’re just wandering aimlessly down a path and not making progress. The worst case is that it causes a patient to leave treatment before they get to reap the benefits of therapy and see positive changes in their life. Conversely, not having a clear plan of action and treatment can also cause a client to stay in therapy too long and still not make any real progress.
Getting the most out of your talk therapy sessions requires a balance of allowing both moments of spontaneous exploration and focused reflection. It’s important to let your feelings and thoughts flow freely, but it’s also important to slow down, step back, and reflect on what those thoughts and feelings are indicating, and why you might be having them. There are many ways and many areas of your own self-exploration in which you can practice this. While the content of your individual therapy sessions will be unique, here are 12 therapy tips to get the most out of your sessions.
Before diving into your deepest, darkest thoughts, it’s best to take care of any outstanding administration. The last thing you want is to interrupt a major breakthrough or abruptly have to wipe away tears to write a check or schedule your next appointment. Take care of payment, scheduling and therapy insurance questions at the start of your first session. Get all those logistical issues out of the way at the beginning. If you make it a habit to check in with your therapist to see if there is anything outstanding, you also won’t ever be behind on payments or forget to get the next therapy session scheduled.
Talk therapy is not the place to hold back. If you have the right therapist, it should be easy to feel open with your emotions. Granted, it might not all come rushing out at the beginning of your treatment. Even with the best match between patient and therapist, it takes time to build trust. That said, when you do feel comfortable, bring all of your feelings into your sessions. Though we often seek therapy to resolve pain points, frustrations, and conflict, it’s just as important to share highlights, joy, success, and wins.
Understanding what works in your life is just as critical to understanding yourself better as what doesn’t. Focusing on the positive is encouraging and can often shed light on the causes of more negative behavior. In general, be willing to step back, contain your feelings, and be curious about them without letting your emotions get out of control. In therapy, we exercise the capacity to have an emotion without it having us.
As much as possible, try to keep the focus on yourself. It’s all too easy to spend an entire therapy session venting about other people in your life, or circumstances that don’t directly relate to you. This is healthy and necessary to blow off steam. It’s also nice to have an unbiased third party to get feedback or empathy. But, progress on yourself will be hard to make if you don’t use your therapy sessions to talk about you. It can be uncomfortable for many people to talk about themselves or how they’re feeling, so deflecting the focus away from the self is common in therapy. If you want to get the most out of your sessions, you’ll need to keep the conversation and spotlight on yourself.
Ask yourself: what kind of therapist do I need? Finding the right therapist is critical to getting the most out of your sessions. Without a guide you can trust, treatment won’t be as effective. Finding the right therapist involves a bit of work on your part. It’s worth the investment in time to do your research and interview multiple candidates before settling on the right therapist.
You’ll want to consider important factors like gender, physical location, experience in specific issues and treatments, and whether or not your insurance provider covers their services. If you aren’t sure how to find a therapist, you can find the right one for you through referrals, both personal and medical. Or, you can use a qualified matching service like Advekit.
Once you’ve chosen the right therapist, it’s time to forge a trusting connection. Of course, this cannot and should not be forced. Even if there is an immediate sense of comfort and ease, it might take time to develop real trust to fully open up emotionally. As with all relationships, a good therapeutic relationship is made rather than simply found. To accomplish this, try to be direct with your therapist.
No therapist is perfect, so it’s important to voice what is working and what's not during your time together. Remember, that you are paying your therapist for a service, and if you are not satisfied, speak up. What is your therapist doing that works and doesn’t work? Do they need to approach new therapy techniques? Is he or she leaving things out that you had hoped would be part of your work together? Be sure to ask yourself these questions as you seek to form a solid connection with your therapist.
Perhaps you may want to evaluate how they act towards you. In which case you might ask yourself if him or her is cold. Are they intrusive? Not challenging enough? Too challenging? Do you find their tone off-putting? Are they judgemental? Do you worry that you like the therapist too much or depend on him or her too much? Speak up. This sort of direct communication not only helps your therapist help you, but it also pushes you beyond your comfort zone.
Just as you start each session taking care of admin related tasks, make it a regular habit to check in with your therapist. How are things going? Are you happy with your progress? Did your therapist say something that bothered you a few weeks ago but you never said anything? Are your session times still working with your schedule? This is ideally a two-way discussion, with both of you sharing your thoughts. Having these regular touch points every month or so can help prevent unnecessary issues from arising, push your progress along, and help keep you in treatment longer.
If you still feel like you’re not with the right therapist after multiple check-ins, honest conversations, and giving the relationship time, don’t stay! If your therapist doesn't “get you,” then you won’t ever be emotionally vulnerable enough to make real progress in your treatment. The biggest mistake you can make is not talking to your therapist when there are things you find uncomfortable. You may be afraid to challenge or threaten your therapist because they are in a position of authority, but remember that they are also mental health professionals and should be able to handle a negative reaction. If the therapist doesn’t handle it well, that is a sign that you should perhaps look into switching practitioners. Understanding the signs of a good therapist is critical to the overall impact of your treatment. A good therapist will be open to assuming responsibility for transgressions or misunderstandings.
Some people stay too long with a therapist who is not a good fit. It’s always a good idea to trust your instincts! If you’re not comfortable or are not making progress, you should discuss your concerns or terminate therapy. Don’t be afraid to be your own advocate and become an active participant in the treatment process. You have the right to terminate treatment at any time, with no obligation except to pay for services rendered. If you have been to counseling and had a negative experience, then you did not find the right person for you.
As you move through your treatment, it’s important to not just focus on each individual session, but also look for overarching themes and patterns. Therapy is most effective when we can connect the dots between events and understand how our personalities and responses affect our well-being. These patterns will help uncover a deeper understanding of how you operate in different circumstances and it will continue to serve you once you stop attending sessions and navigate the world on your own. You won’t be responsible for doing this on your own. Your therapist will help you recognize themes and patterns that underlie the events you discuss in the session. At the same time, you don’t need to wait for your therapist to do this. Try to look for themes on your own!
When it comes to therapy, you can’t just show up, you need to open up. And that includes all the bad, weird thoughts you’d normally never share. Therapy is one place where strange thoughts are acceptable. In fact, the odder the better. Have a sudden impulse? Say it. Flash to a certain memory? Bring it up. If you find your sessions turning into recaps of your week, or you aren’t sure what to talk about in therapy, consider the deeper issue at play, or return to the original reason you sought out therapy in the first place. Ask what it is you're not talking about and talk about it. Discuss what you're discovering about yourself. Take the time to explore who you are, what you are feeling, and why you do what you do.
Some people come to therapy looking for a major change in their lives, but feel challenged by it once it happens. You’ll get the most out of your sessions in therapy if you choose to accept that if you're seeking change, things will probably change, and it might require more change than you thought.
If you’re asking, how long does therapy take, you need to understand that it’s an ongoing process. Therapeutic work doesn’t just happen for an hour a week at your therapist’s office. As the client, you’ll need to continue doing the work outside of the session and in your normal life. Once you’ve made progress, it’s time to apply what you’ve learned in counseling to your world. This can take the form of specific assignments you want to take on, such as taking the steps to pursue a new career or reaching out to repair a broken relationship. Or it can take the form of more general intentions about how you want to behave going forward, such as an intention to not avoid a difficult situation that makes you anxious. Also, meditation, exercise, support groups, community, and creative work can help you to actualize the change you’ve discussed in your sessions.
Therapy is a lot of work, but it also has joyous moments. Having a breakthrough can feel like a tremendous weight is lifted. Think of therapy like enrolling in a course where you are the subject matter. If you do the work, pay attention, and have a great teacher, you’re bound to succeed.
To get started on a fulfilling journey of growth, refer to these therapy tips and reach out to Advekit to get matched with a therapist!
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.