So you've made it. You've had a look on Google, and found a therapist you think you could click with. That's it right? You've done all the hard work? Think again... It's true that walking through the door is one of the most difficult parts of a therapy journey, but the work doesn't stop there! Therapy is an investment in yourself, and requires continuous time and effort. The most important thing is that you are willing to do the work (hint: if you're reading this article, you are!) - the rest will come. Here are my top ten tips to help you get the most out of your therapy.
1. Plan your Sessions
You may come into therapy expecting your therapist to lead the session and take charge. After all, they are the expert, right? But actually, most therapies work by encouraging the client to take the lead. Most therapists will wait to see what you will bring at the start of each session. This can be unsettling at first, but it can also be really powerful and empowering. This process reduces the power differential between you and your therapist, and encourages the mindset that recovery and progress are in your control. Therapy is a collaborative endeavour, and you will get the most out of your therapy sessions if you try to have an idea of what you want to explore in your session. Of course, there will be times when you are unsure what to say, and that is completely natural - your therapist can work with you on that, and provide gentle prompts to help keep you on course. But the goal here is not to simply turn up to a therapy session and expect the therapist to do all the work for you. Planning what you want to explore each week helps to keep you focused on whatever it is that has brought you to therapy in the first place.
2. Get in the 'Zone' Before your Session
The evening or morning before your session is also a useful time for reflection and preparing for your session. It may be helpful to take some time to journal or reflect on what has been coming up for you over the last week. Think how you want to use your session. Is there anything you want to ask your therapist? Is there anything you want them to clarify from your last session?
3. Arrive on Time
It sounds simple, but this can make a huge difference to your mindset during your session. Don't just rock up to therapy with one minute to spare. If you are having face to face therapy sessions, make sure you leave ample time for travel. If you are having online sessions, make sure you have your device and camera all set up and good to go before your session is due to start, and it's either plugged in or well charged. This will help you to feel more in control and reduce any anxiety you might have before beginning your session.
4. Make it a Priority...
Part of the power of therapy is that it provides consistent and regular support as you navigate your struggles. If you can, try to plan things around your therapy, not the other way around. Put your therapy dates into your calendar, and stick to them. Missing sessions regularly will impede your progress, which in turn will be disheartening and make you less engaged in the process. Attending regularly helps to built trust with your therapist, and provide a sense of continuity in your relationship. Making therapy a priority helps to get you in the mindset that therapy is a priority. It shows you are valuing your therapy and, ultimately, yourself.
5. ...And Make Sure Others in Your Life Do Too
Not everyone will be fortunate enough to have family or friends that are supportive. People around you may feel threatened by your growth, or they not really understand what all this therapy malarkey is about. If you can, have partners or family protect your therapy time. If you have shared responsibilities such as picking up the kids, try to keep clear cut boundaries, so they know that when you have therapy, they need to show up and do their part to support you by taking care of your other responsibilities. Most of all, don't feel guilty for taking this time for yourself. Healing, and growth, is important and it will take time. Ultimately, your growth and self-awareness will also benefit your family and those around you.
6. Recognise Most of the Work Happens Outside of the Session
The work doesn't just stop the moment you walk out of the therapy room. Therapy isn't something that is done to you. It requires active participation and dedication. Paying attention to your thoughts and feelings outside of the session will help you to become more self-reflective and help shed light on recurring issues, thoughts or behaviours in your life.
Rewiring the brain, creating new neural pathways and new habits takes time and repetition. For example, if you're trying to create firmer boundaries in life, and be more assertive, it's going to take trying this more than once to make it feel comfortable. This is why my clients are my inspiration, as they dedicate so much time and effort into self-healing and self-growth. It takes courage, dedication and bravery to explore our inner world and create lasting change.
7. Make Realistic Expectations
When you first begin therapy, your therapist should encourage you to explore what it is you may want from your therapy, and what you help to gain. Together, you should try to co-create realistic and attainable goals. You may want to "get better", but if you can, try to be as specific as possible. How would you know when you feel "better"? What would this look like for you? Healing is not a linear process and like anything, there will be ups and downs. There may be times you feel you are learning so much about yourself, and others where it feels like you're making little or no progress. It takes time to build trust and a sense of safety with your therapist, so don't put pressure on yourself to confide everything in them and tell your whole life story straight away.
8. Be Honest with your Therapist
In therapy, honesty really is the best policy. So often, clients will tell me that their biggest moment of relief came when they told me something they are deeply ashamed of. They expected judgement, but instead were met with empathy, and understanding. Whoever you choose as a therapist, they will most likely have heard it all before!
It's also helpful to tell your therapist what is and what isn't working. This can feel quite intimidating, if you're a people-pleaser you might be afraid of upsetting or angering your therapist. However, a proficient therapist should be open to, and in fact welcome such discussions (and if they don't, that's a red flag you should look for a different therapist). It's equally important to be honest if you feel something is not working, or if they have said something that has upset you, or angered you. Therapy is a relational endeavour and therapists don't always get it right! By bringing it up with your therapist, you can address any ruptures and work to rebuild your relationship. This doesn't mean you have to stick with them - but it is helpful to be able to model a 'good enough' relationship, where you can address anything you need.
Your therapist's ability to help is impacted by how much you tell them. They aren't a mind reader, so if you don't give them the full picture, they won't be as helpful as perhaps they could be.
9. Be Mindful of Self-Sabotage
Try to watch out for self-sabotaging behaviours when it comes to therapy. There are many reasons why we might try to sabotage our therapy journey - after all it can be scary being open vulnerable. These behaviours can look like being late, cancelling last minute, and/or 'forgetting' to pay. At times therapy can be difficult (usually before the big 'aha' moments happen!), which can mean we are tempted to avoid our sessions. But try to remember that therapy can be a bit like working out sometimes - we may drag our feet a little, but ultimately we tend to feel much better after it.
10. Don't Expect Your Therapist to Tell You What to Do
It can be so tempting to want to ask your therapist for advice. Be wary of a therapist who offers unsolicited advice, or tries to push you towards a certain course of action. If they do this, they are probably working towards their own goals rather than yours. Therapy is more about finding the best course of action for you - and no one can decide that for you other than yourself. It's different of course if a therapist is helping you to explore different paths, or is giving you different ideas or coping techniques to use, this can be immensely valuable.