by Andrea M. Darcy
Starting therapy for the first time? Or been at it awhile, and not sure it’s working?
Editor and lead writer Andrea Blundell looks at how to get the most out of therapy.
How to get the most out of therapy
Therapy is not a walk in the park. It can be complicated and challenging. So what can you do to make it a rewarding experience instead of feeling like you are throwing your money out the window?
1. Remember you are the one hiring them.
This matters both in first sessions and later down the line.
A first therapy session is nerve wracking. And it can be easy to feel you have to follow along and answer the therapist’s questions and then keep going back, despite a niggly feeling something isn’t quite right.
But would you hire an assistant at work without asking questions? It’s just as important you ask a therapist questions you have, such as asking about:
- their training
- the experience they have working with your exact issues
- the type of therapy they offer and how they work with it
- what they think you can accomplish working together
- their price options
- their rules.
And then you need to speak up if things change for you, such as needing an adjustment in scheduling and time slot, or needing to switch to ‘blended’ sessions with some taking place as online therapy.
2. And choose carefully.
Going to a therapist just because you like their picture is probably not the best idea, unless you are somehow psychic.
And while a recommendation from a friend is a good start, you might have different needs than him or her. Research the therapist you are interested in , his or her experience, qualifications, if they are a registered therapist, and the types of therapy they offer.
Also consider why you are choosing a certain therapist. Are you going for your comfort zone? Trying to find a mothering figure? Or a therapist you aspire to be like? Is this therapist actually the right choice to help you grow?
3. Be realistic with expectations.
photo by Nik Shuliahin
Therapy is hard work. And like anything, there will be a lot of ups and downs. There will be times that it feels powerful, and times when it feels like nothing is changing.
How to get the most out of therapy? Stick it out, and be committed to yourself and the process. Because yes, it is a process, not a magic wand.
4. Remember that your therapist is a person.
Putting a therapist on a pedestal means setting them up to fall off it, and setting yourself up to go into victim mode.
Therapists are just people. Yes, they have advanced listening skills, and they understand others very well. But they can make mistakes, they can have their own issues, they can get sick, they can sometimes leave you feeling let down.
It can help to see therapy as a collaboration instead of a ‘patient client’ relationship. You and your therapist are two people working towards a common goal, your greater wellbeing.
5. Take out the ‘like’ factor.
Two great ways to never get good results from therapy? Spend all your time searching for ways you don’t like your therapist, or spend all your time trying to get your therapist to like you.
Most people who come to therapy have had longstanding relating issues. And immediately liking or trusting someone is not going to happen. With therapy you will have to face all your blocks that have surfaced in other relationships. You won’t always like your therapist.
Instead look for someone you can see has values you appreciate, who you can relax around even if you don’t ‘like’ them all the time, and who you feel you can learn to trust, over time.
As for making your therapist like you? If you hide who you are and pander to your ideas of what your therapist will like, your fake self might get better. But your real self will be simply wasting money.
6. Honesty really is the best policy if you want to get the most out of therapy.
Relationships are tough. And yes, sometimes we can find ourselves telling fibs to avoid talking about things or upsetting someone.
But in therapy you are investing money and time in order to know yourself better. Lying to your therapist means they can’t help you well, or that in the future you’ll have to waste valuable session time explaining the lie.
Your therapist is not going to judge you for the truth. They have probably heard far worse.
7. Watch out for habits of sabotage.
Do you often sabotage relationships and opportunities? Chances are, you’ll also try to sabotage therapy.
This can look like being late for sessions, going out drinking the night before, or spending the money you’d put aside to pay your therapist with. It can also look like saying negative things about your therapist and sessions to everyone you know until you have talked yourself into leaving.
If you feel this happening, bring it to the session. Yes, that’s right, talk to your therapist about how you are sabotaging. You can get to the root of it and discuss strategy for stopping the cycle.
8. Talk about the process itself.
Many people have questions at some point about the way therapy is going, or aren’t liking a certain new tool. So what do they do? Complain to friends and say nothing to their therapist. Distance grows and sessions stop working.
Therapy is a space to talk about anything — including therapy! If in doubt, ask. If unhappy, bring it up. It’s a safe space. A good therapist won’t take it personally.
9. Do your homework.
If you are doing a therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that comes with homework? Do it, and in a timely manner, not crammed in to the last hour before your session (see the paragraph above about sabotage).
The homework is there to help you get results. The only person who loses out if you don’t commit to your homework is you.
10. Learn about transference.
Is your therapist making you feel a strange rage? Or do you feel oddly attracted to them? Welcome to transference.
Transference means we project unresolved issues with other people, like a parent, onto our therapist.
Don’t feel guilty or weird if you are experiencing transference. Use it! By talking about it with your therapist it can then become a useful tool to explore these other relationships.
11. If it’s bugging you, say so.
Therapy is made to talk about anything, including feeling annoyed and frustrated about the cologne your therapist wears, a new piece of art in the therapy room, or how slow you feel your progress is. You never know where these things can lead — sometimes profound revelations come from exploring what seems a small annoyance.
12. Know when it’s time to leave.
Yes, we’ve just discussed committing to the journey, and cutting your therapist some slack for being human.
But not every therapist is for every client. Nor is every type of therapy for every person. If it really isn’t working after four or more sessions? Talk about it in an open and non-judgmental manner. It’s possible your therapist might even agree with you, and then be able to refer you to someone they think is more suitable.
Note that if your therapist has in any way crossed professional boundaries — if they have made any sort of sexual innuendo or shown up smelling of alcohol, or threatened or harassed you, for example? Then the situation does not require talking but self-care. Report them to the relevant board they are registered with and move on.
Ready to find the right therapist for you? We connect you with a roster of top London therapists in central offices. Not in the big smoke? Use our booking site to find a registered therapist near you, or an online therapist you can chat with from anywhere.
Want to share your own tip about how to get the most out of therapy? Use the comment box below. Comments are moderated to protect our readers.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and writer. She also runs a consultancy helping people find their perfect therapy and therapist. Follow her on Instagram for useful life tips @am_darcy