Starting therapy seems fairly straightforward, doesn’t it? Perhaps you notice you’ve been feeling more anxious after receiving a job promotion. Maybe you’re feeling lethargic and down following the end of a relationship. So, you decide you’ll pursue therapy. You figure, I’ll come in, talk about my problems, and then I’ll feel better. Sounds pretty simple.
While being a therapy client can be as simple as coming in, discussing your problems and working out potential solutions, there are numerous things you can do in order to make the most out of your therapy sessions. You’re likely spending your valuable time, energy, and money to participate in your therapy sessions, so why not make sure you’re using your resources as effectively as possible? Here is a list of recommended “do’s” and “don’t's” around getting the most out of your therapy sessions.
DO your homework in researching potential therapists.
Finding a therapist with whom you connect can be almost as challenging as being in therapy. Every therapist brings different therapeutic modalities, thoughts, experiences, and insights into session, and if you do your homework by researching different therapists beforehand (hello, PsychologyToday!), you may be more likely to find a therapist with whom you resonate.
DO come to session on time.
It may seem trivial, but consistently arriving to your therapy sessions even a few minutes past your scheduled appointment time has consequences. Not only can it disturb your therapist’s appointments with other clients, but it also takes away from your valuable therapy session. You’ve made the effort to make it all the way to your appointment- why not make yourself a priority by making it to your therapy session on time? Better yet, try to make it to your appointment 5-10 minutes early to give yourself a few minutes to get a drink of water, use the restroom and ground yourself before your session.
DO be honest and transparent with your therapist.
Imagine this: You wake up in the middle of the night with chest pains. You rush yourself to the hospital to get some help. When you get to the hospital your doctor asks you what’s wrong, and you tell her you’re in pain. You don’t tell her where you’re having pain, just that you’re experiencing pain. You refrain from sharing crucial information that ultimately impacts how much your doctor can help you. Talking to your therapist without being as transparent and honest as possible ultimately impacts how much your therapist can help you. Use your therapy time to the best of your ability by being as honest and open as you can.
DO tell your therapist how much you’re drinking alcohol or using drugs.
Your therapist likely has no interest in judging you on the number of cocktails you’re drinking on a Friday night. However, using drugs or alcohol can impact your vulnerability to negative emotions, and refraining from sharing your substance use with your therapist is like leaving out a major piece of your therapy puzzle. Your therapist can’t help you with what they don't know. Be honest and up front with your therapist about what you’re using and how often you’re using it in order to give her as much information as possible around how she can support you in working towards your goals.
DO complete your therapy homework.
Trust me, I get it. The minute you walk out of your therapist’s office, you’re faced with all of the stresses and responsibilities you were dealing with before you walked into your appointment. Sometimes incorporating what you’ve learned in session can feel burdensome and exhausting. However, if you only use what you learn in therapy in therapy and not in your life outside of your sessions, you’re wasting your time and money. Using what you work on in therapy outside of therapy can speed up your therapy process and save you time and energy.
DO feel comfortable challenging your therapist.
There is an inherent power differential within any interaction between a therapist and client. It is your therapist’s job to be mindful of this power differential and to work to keep the therapist/client dynamic equal, comfortable and supportive. If you disagree with something your therapist has said during session or with how your therapy session is going altogether, I invite you to share these thoughts and feelings with your therapist. Your therapist doesn’t know how to solve all of your problems, nor is your therapist always going to be correct in her interpretations of your personal experiences. Practice your interpersonal effectiveness skills by challenging your therapist.
While we’ve covered a handful of suggestions as to what you could do make the most out of your therapy experience, here are a few suggestions as to what you could avoid in order to have effective and worthwhile therapy experiences.
DON’T be discouraged if you aren’t connecting with your therapist.
As previously mentioned, it can be challenging to find a therapist who you feel really understands you. If you notice you’re feeling misunderstood, uncomfortable, or disconnected after a few sessions with your new therapist, try not to feel discouraged. Each therapist brings something different to his or her sessions, and what your therapist is bringing to your sessions may not resonate with you. Feel free to share with your therapist if you feel you may not be a good therapy fit. Your therapist may validate your emotions and, if you ask, provide you with additional referral options. While ending a therapy relationship can be uncomfortable, it is ultimately useful to cut ties if you feel the therapeutic relationship or sessions aren’t suiting your needs.
DON’T use your therapy time as a venting session.
Venting about the argument you had with your spouse or the obnoxious behaviors of your coworker has its place, and your therapy session is not it. Venting to your therapist on occasion can be appropriate and even therapeutic, but using your therapy session solely as a venting session is ultimately an ineffective use of your time and your therapist’s time. While venting in session may feel helpful in the moment, it can end up activating your emotions and taking away from valuable problem-solving and processing time. If you feel you absolutely need to vent to your therapist, give yourself five minutes and then move on. Save the venting for your friends and family members.
DON’T expect extra therapy time if you are late to your session.
As previously mentioned, making your therapy sessions a priority by coming to sessions early or on time is incredibly valuable. If you get caught up in traffic or lose track of time and get to your session late, do not expect any extra time with your therapist after the scheduled end of your session. Having less time with your therapist due to tardiness is a natural consequence, so make your therapy a priority by getting there on time.