Showing up to therapy is just the first step. Here is some advice on how to tap into life-changing results.
You took a brave leap when you decided to pursue therapy to better yourself. As proud as you deserve to be for nurturing your mental health, there’s more work to do to make sure your therapy journey is as healing as possible.
Don’t just show up, pay your copay, and rest on your laurels. You deserve to put the work in to achieve mental ease and wellness. You can follow these steps to get the most out of psychotherapy and help your therapist help you.
1. Choose carefully
Asking for help is absolutely commendable. But don’t settle for the therapist whose office is down the road purely out of convenience.
To set yourself up for success with your therapy sessions, you’ll want guidance from a professional suited to address your concerns. Consider the following when trying to find the right therapist for you.
Specialization: Some therapists receive certifications specific to a certain demographic or life event. Certifications that may be useful to start your search include:
- couples therapists
- grief therapists
- trauma therapists
- addiction counselors
- divorce counselors
Approach: There are many ways to go about talk therapy, some of which include:
Once you have a list of candidates based on your research, schedule a phone call. Before you divulge all kinds of details about your life, you get to interview your therapist. This first impression may inspire you to schedule an appointment.
“Unless you see red flags during the first meeting, give it three sessions or so before you decide if it’s going to work or not,” advises Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of a private practice in Rhode Island.
“If it’s not going to work, take note of which qualities worked for you and which didn’t. Apply this knowledge when finding your next therapist,” she suggests.
2. Handle the business side of therapy first
When you’re sitting face-to-face with your therapist, don’t let things like trying to remember to validate parking or the session’s out-of-pocket fee distract you from the important work you’re doing.
Before you ever walk into your first appointment, make sure you’ve squared away how you, or your insurance, will be paying for the therapy and for how long. Place your full attention on the help you need during your appointment with your therapist.
3. View therapy as a collaboration
Therapy is no spectator sport. Once you’re in a session with your therapist, your path to wellness is a team effort. Your therapist may be the guide, but you carry the responsibility of opening up about the difficult aspects of your life.
“Sometimes people are afraid to let the therapist guide the session and sometimes people are afraid to engage too deeply with the therapist’s questions,” Laura Mueller, a licensed independent clinical social worker, explains. “The best therapy is a balance between guiding the client and the client finding their own answers,” Mueller advises.
4. Schedule sessions at a good time
Vulnerability is exhausting. And when you’re truly putting in the work to improve your mind and situation, you’ll be digging deep to expose your inner world and unveil difficult parts of your life.
Choose a time when you have the mental space to be present with your therapist. This may not be at the tail end of a taxing workday.
5. Say anything in therapy
You can say the tough thing. If you’re having a hard time opening up about traumas, negative feelings, and habits that make you feel ashamed, you’re not alone. But verbalizing your struggles is critical to therapeutic benefit.
“To help me help you, it is good to challenge yourself to bring up the things you are wanting to not bring up,” says Mueller. “There is nothing too shameful, embarrassing, or taboo to talk about in therapy.”
6. Talk about therapy in therapy
When you expose your innermost feelings in therapy, it’s normal to experience intense fear and stress. You’re buying into a method for healing and you might have some “buyer’s remorse.” You may use therapy to talk about those feelings too. Rather than pushing these negative feelings away,
Mueller also encourages you to investigate your relationship with your therapist. “It’s OK and usually really helpful to ask your therapist questions, especially questions about how we are doing the work of therapy together, the strategy for the sessions, and the therapeutic relationship.”
7. Set landmarks for change
Psychotherapy is not a straight-line solution to your problems. Think about it as a process that builds constructive habits and thought patterns. When you fall back on old thought processes, don’t beat yourself up.
The landmarks established by you and your therapist will give you room to be flawed, so you won’t need to start over at square one after every stumble. You can move forward imperfectly.
8. Do the work outside your sessions
Your therapy session shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. Implementing the tools you’ve learned in therapy in your day-to-day life is the best way to see your personal growth.
If you’re wondering what to do between therapy sessions, ask your therapist about actionable ways you can carry your therapy outside of the confines of your 50-minute meeting.
“A patient can best help me help them by coming prepared,” Weaver-Breitenbecher counsels. “Take notes throughout the week and come to session with agenda points. The session is your time — we should talk about what’s on your mind.”
9. Set boundaries around therapy
Therapy is truly your safe space. Sometimes, you’ll need to guard that space from others. Well-meaning friends and family may ask what you’re talking about in therapy. Don’t feel obligated to divulge what happens in your therapy sessions, though.
What you talk about with your therapist is meant to help you alone. Sharing that confidential information with others outside of the therapy room may open you up to unnecessary criticism and opinions that are not conducive to your mental healing.
10. Savor the process
Therapy can be heartbreaking, illuminating, and transformational. Licensed clinical social worker and certified trauma specialist Donald McCasland advises folks to remember to “give themselves a break.”
“One of the most important things is to understand that the therapeutic process isn’t an overnight thing, even though [patients] may want it to be. Like many other things in life, it’s about learning, growing, and making small changes that will be long-lasting.”
Chaos is part of life. The unexpected will upend your comfort in your relationships, school, and work. When these disruptions happen, finding the right therapist and fully embracing the process can help you restore the flow and balance in your life.
You know what to do and how to set yourself up for success. So no more excuses — you can find a therapist who’s a good fit for your situation and personality and start getting help now.