Tips for Getting the Most out of Therapy

Tips for Getting the Most out of Therapy

If you are new to, or revisiting therapy, welcome to this part of your journey.  (Re)entering into therapy can be a very big step for many people, and often brings up conflicting emotions, including (but certainly not limited to) relief, anxiety, reluctance, excitement, and discomfort.  This is totally normal, and if you find you are experiencing this, I would encourage you to share this with your therapist.

Therapy is not unlike growing a plant…

Your growth and change processes are intuitive and innate to you – that is, they are naturally occurring and will work towards healing and wholeness regardless of what you do – just like a blade of grass or a flower that comes up year to year.  However, there are things you can do to support, foster, and nurture this growth – just like the work of watering, protecting, and fertilizing a plant.

Following are a few tips about how to get the most out of therapy, both in-session, and between sessions:

  • A therapeutic relationship requires time and commitment from both client and therapist.  Commit to coming weekly for at least six (6) sessions before revisiting your schedule.  This allows you to build and maintain momentum, trust, safety, and rapport in order to support your progress.  Without consistent attendance, it may be difficult for you to find continuity from week to week, and this may lead to a feeling of slowed or slower progress.
  • Be gentle with yourself.  Engage in intentional self-care between sessions.
  • Give yourself time to “digest” between sessions; try not to schedule your session before any stressful situation, and give yourself some time and space for the work we have done to settle and process through.  If you do have to go into a stressful situation after our session, let your therapist know so that they can make sure you are feeling grounded and as relaxed as possible before you leave.
  • Ask questions.
  • Be open, willing, and honest, with yourself and with your therapist, about what you are thinking, feeling, and experiencing.
  • Talk to your therapist about what is working well for you AND what isn’t, as you work together.
  • Let your therapist know other forms of self-care, or self-exploration, that have been meaningful and helpful to you in the past – things like art, writing and journaling, dance and movement, exercise, religious practices, etc.  These are a tremendous strength that you bring to the process, and you and your therapist can incorporate and build off of them.
  • Both client and therapist must take responsibility for the process.  Your therapist can only effectively meet the amount of energy and intention that you put into your work.  At the end of the day, this is YOUR life and your journey, and so it is important that you be an active participant in it.
  • Communicate with your therapist about any changes or needs that you have.
  • Embrace curiosity.  In mindfulness practice, there is a term called “beginner’s mind,” that basically means to approach each task and experience as if it were your first time, no matter how many times you have done it before.  This allows you to focus on the present moment, and to truly be present and aware of your experience.  It also allows you to give up the burden of perfectionism and the hard demands we often place on ourselves.  Through an open, curious mind, you are able to meet yourself in a new way, and to really welcome the change and growth that will happen.

“and the day came when the risk it took to remain

tight inside the bud was more painful

than the risk it took to Blossom.”

– Anaïs Nin

Tips for Finding a New Therapist

Finding and choosing a therapist is an important decision.  Numerous studies have shown that the most significant factor in a person’s progress in therapy is related to the relationship with the therapist, itself.  Therefore, it’s important that you find someone you are comfortable with, and that it feels like en empowered, informed decision.  Remember, you are hiring the therapist to work for you, and it is okay to take your time and be careful in making your decision.

Most therapists offer a free initial consultation, and this is a great opportunity to meet them in person, and to get a feel for them.  It is also a great opportunity for you to find out about logistical things like fee and schedule, AND about how they might work with you.  Following are suggestions of things to consider, and ask, while making your decision:

Possible Questions to Ask Yourself:

  • Do I feel safe with this person?
  • Do I feel seen and heard?
  • What other qualities feel important for my therapist to have?
  • Does this person seem to have experience and/or training, working with my particular issues?
  • How do I feel around this person?  Is there a connection?

Possible Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

  • What are your views about therapy?
  • What training, degrees, or experience do you have with situations similar to mine?
  • If concerning a child: How much professional and personal experience do you have working with children?  How much do you work with the parents, if you are counseling a child?
  • How do you feel about working with a _________? (Fill in the blank:  man, woman, transgender, working, unemployed, substance user, etc. – any factor about yourself that feels important)?
  • What are your views on marriage?  Divorce?  Etc.?
  • How do you decide on the fees you charge?  Do you ever make adjustments to fees?  Are you able to take insurance payments?  (if not, ask about how they might be able to meet your co-pay – often therapists can come close, and this gives you, as a consumer, more freedom and control over your care.)
  • Do you diagnose?  What might this mean for me?
  • What is your policy about canceled appointments?
  • What happens if I don’t show up?
  • What are your expectations and beliefs about therapy?
  • How collaborative are you?  To what extent will I be involved in decisions about my therapy?
  • What skills will I have when treatment is completed?
  • How do you/we decide when it is time for therapy to end?  How will I know when I’m finished?
  • If you are out of town, will I have a back-up therapist?
  • What am I not asking, that’s important for me to know about you, or therapy?

* Resourced, with revision, from: WINGS Foundation (2009).  Survivors’ guide to healing, 2nd Edition.  Denver, CO: self-published.

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