Recently, a friend of mine asked me how to make the most out of her therapy sessions. I think that is an excellent question. You’re spending hard earned money and you don’t want to feel like you’re wasting it. It’s important to remember that the benefits of therapy happen over time, not in one or even a few sessions. Some sessions will seem more intense and powerful than others, but ultimately, it is consistency over time that leads to real change. People often tell me that a day comes when they look back and think, wow, I’ve really changed! I’ve had that experience myself. But, it takes time and commitment.
Therapists have different styles, so your therapist may not choose to pay attention to the things I include in my work. Sometimes I believe it is best if you go in without a plan of action, and for you and your therapist to see what naturally emerges. Other times it’s great to go in with a plan for what you want to work on. Either way, there are certain things that I think are always important to keep in mind during your sessions.
Keep in mind that studies show the number one factor that contributes to successful therapy is not any one particular intervention, but is actually your relationship with your therapist.
To make the most of your sessions, pay attention to the following:
1. Be honest with your therapist about your experience. Do you feel optimistic that your therapist can help you? Do you feel understood? Misunderstood? Judged? Accepted? Do you feel cared for by him or her? What have you found helpful? What have you found unhelpful? What bothers you about your therapist or the therapy you’re receiving? What do you need from your therapist? Do you know what you need? Tell your therapist. A large part of healing takes place within your relationship with your therapist. Sometimes it is not in the details of your week that will move you forward, but in your experience of your therapy. You may want to talk about your overall experience of therapy. Or, if you notice something comes up for you during your session, like a reaction to your therapist of some sort, you can bring it up right away. Be honest as much as possible. Don’t worry about taking care of your therapist; he or she is there for you, not the other way around.
2. Go to therapy whether or not something specific is going on. Often, it is after or between crises that deeper work can be done. Sometimes people don’t see the point in going to therapy unless something is wrong, but when there is not a crisis, deeper wounds can be addressed. Some of the most powerful sessions can emerge when going in, you have no idea what you will work on.
3. Explore your relationship with your therapist. How you relate to your therapist will in part mimic how you relate to other people in your life. We reenact many aspects of our lives in our therapy. Healing happens when we change our relational patterns, and your therapist provides a safe place for you to take relational risks. Your therapist and you are in a relationship, and you have the chance to have a positive experience; a more intimate connection; vulnerability; honesty; trust. As your relational patterns change with your therapist, they will change outside of therapy. Over time, your life will become filled with deeper more meaningful relationships.
Therapy is complicated. It is not a quick fix, but it is a chance to change your life for a lifetime.
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