If you’re thinking about coming to therapy, one consideration that may have crossed your mind is: “How can I get the most out of going to therapy?” Especially if you’re going to be paying out of pocket for your sessions. During your first therapy session, your therapist will likely gather a history about your mental health, family life, medical needs, etc. In addition, they will ask you what your main goal is for therapy, or what would you like to be able to get out therapy? These may be hard questions to answer without being vague if you haven’t put some thought into why you’re coming to session. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your therapy, from beginning to end.
Bring a list. Anytime during your therapy, but especially in the beginning, it can be helpful to bring a list of things that have been bothering you and/or issues you would like help with, these may include:
Past or present issues in your family or other relationships
Different symptoms you’ve noticed on your own
Changes in eating, sleeping, relationships, habits, moods, etc.
Any intense emotional responses or troubling feelings
Specific goals, if you have formed them on your own. Your therapist will also be happy to help you form more specific goals based on the issues/symptoms you bring up
Ask yourself frequently: “What do I want?”, “How am I feeling”, “What’s coming up for me?”
Be curious about yourself and ask yourself “why?” you think, feel, behave the way you do.
Remember, it’s YOUR time. A therapy hour is actually 50 minutes long, not a full hour. However, you can make the most of this time by collecting your thoughts and preparing for your session before hand. This could mean preparing throughout the week, having time set aside before you come, or arriving ten minutes early to prepare before you see your therapist. Don’t be afraid to let your therapist know if you want to go in a different direction, they’re there to help YOU get the most out of YOUR therapy. In addition, part of your therapist’s job is to make sure you end on time, so be aware but don’t worry too much about the end time, they will usually warn you and wrap up when needed.
Bring things up at the beginning of session and don’t be afraid to ask questions. It can be hard to share emotional experiences with someone you don’t know well, but it can be even harder and more frustrating for any client to share a big revelation at the end of session and not have time to properly work through it. Sometimes client’s will avoid bringing things up or censor themselves because they think they shouldn’t, can’t, or are not allowed to. Bringing up whatever is going on for you and asking questions are two important aspects of growing through therapy and what therapist are trained to handle, so don’t worry too much about how your therapist will react.
Integrate your therapy into your life. Make the most of your time between sessions. Notice areas in your life you’d like to explore further, practice the things you talk about in therapy, do some research on your own and bring it up with your therapist, ASK QUESTIONS, and don’t be afraid to bring things up. Therapy works best when you take initiative and make it part of your life. Journaling, note taking, doing research and reflecting on your session throughout the week can all help this happen.
Notice your relationship with your therapist. Don’t be afraid to bring things up with your therapist and check in on how your relationship is doing. Therapists are people too and they’re trained to understand that not everyone is going to get along with them and that’s okay. If you’re thinking about ending therapy, looking for a new therapist, having feelings left over from a previous session, were bothered by something they said, etc. bring them up. Your relationship with your therapist will impact how your therapy goes and it’s a good practice in communication.
Use therapy to try out new things and practice hard things. Need to talk to your boss about a raise? Talk to a parent, child, friend, etc. about something difficult? Practice small talk? Need practice being emotionally vulnerable? Therapy is a great place for any of these things.
Don’t expect your therapist to make decisions for you. While therapist’s are happy to give options and some limited advice, therapy is more about helping you make your own decisions and come to your own conclusions, while exploring different options. This will be beneficial in the long run but can be difficult to begin with.
Go deeper. Ask what it is you’re not talking about or avoiding and talk about it. Bring up what you’re discovering about yourself. Really explore who you are, what you feel, and why you do what you’re doing. Push beyond your comfort zone to tackle some of your deeper questions. Explore dreams, fears, fantasies, childhood memories, and anything else that comes to mind, no matter how unrelated it may seem. Explore how you’ll know you’re making changes, how you’ll know you’re ready to leave therapy, and how you’ll know if you need to return.
Allow for change. Sometimes we think we want change, but feel uncomfortable or scared when it actually happens. Accept that if you want to change and seek it out, you may be required to put in greater effort than you originally thought, from little tweaks throughout your life, to major life rebuilding.
Enjoy the process. You are embarking on a journey to get to know yourself better. If you’re curious, motivated to put in the work, teachable, and open to the exploration of self, therapy can be the most challenging but rewarding journey you’ll ever take.
By Susie Lee, AMFT