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Getting the Most Out of Psychotherapy

When clients begin psychotherapy, they often ask what they can do to get the best results. In this article, I answer some of the questions I often hear and offer some tips I hope you’ll find useful for making your therapy a success.

For those who are new to therapy, this article provides a general understanding. Those who have had therapy before may find additional understanding here about what worked or didn’t work in their earlier experience. If you’re very familiar with the therapy process, this article touches on some of its subtleties.

To get the best results, it’s helpful to follow a few basic principles:

  • Choose a therapist with whom you feel comfortable
  • Define your goals
  • Reveal yourself, and voice your concerns
  • Apply yourself
  • Understand the psychotherapy framework

Choosing a Therapist

Research on psychotherapy outcomes tells us that the most powerful factor to assist healing is the quality of the relationship you have with your therapist. [1] Addressing sensitive personal issues with a therapist can be difficult, bringing up intense feelings, thoughts and memories. When you choose a therapist, your ability to disclose sensitive material and work on it openly is greatly enhanced if you feel comfortable with the therapist and can establish a trusting relationship with him or her. You also want to feel secure in the therapist’s skills, competence, and approach to your needs — a nice person without these qualifications won’t get you the best results.

For these reasons, I recommend that you don’t settle for the first therapist you meet if you don’t feel the potential to form a strong healing alliance. As you get into the work, feel free to ask your therapist about your treatment plan and progress. If you aren’t happy with her or his approach or with the results you’re getting, voice your concerns early, as discussed below.

Define Your Goals

I once heard a saying that if you don’t know where you’re going, that’s where you’re going to get. (Maybe someone who reads this will know the source of that saying. If so, please let me know!) There are definite reasons why you’re seeking psychotherapy. A good therapist will ask the necessary questions to help you express your goals. But it’s also helpful to clarify them for yourself and even write them down and bring them into session. A clear understanding of your goals will give you a way to track your progress in reaching them and will assist the therapist in formulating a treatment plan.

Sometimes the goal can be more generalized, such as personal growth, more inner peace or greater passion for living. This type of overarching goal is still very useful, and is usually addressed by long-term, in-depth therapy.

Occasionally I find that clients start by asking me to address goals that are not the core of their issues. They may feel uncomfortable admitting the core problem, such as an addiction, an extramarital affair, uncertainty about sexual identity, a source of guilt, and so on. One of the benefits of good psychotherapy is the ability to tolerate intense feelings without falling apart or acting on them. Your therapist may be able to help you do so more comfortably than you think.

Getting the Most Out of Psychotherapy

Gary Seeman, Ph.D

Gary Seeman, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Corte Madera and San Francisco, CA. He works with adult individuals and couples, specializing in addictions, bereavement, creativity, life transitions, personal fulfillment, relationships and spirituality. He maintains a website at

APA Reference
Seeman, G. (2020). Getting the Most Out of Psychotherapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 May 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 May 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.