People go to therapy for various reasons certainly. Some are coping with stress or anxiety; others with depression or grief. Couples may seek counseling for infidelity, communication, or intimacy deficiencies. Perhaps others may go to bolster self-esteem and/or confidence.
No matter the reason, there is a distinct difference between those who get the most out of the experience and those who decide that ‘therapy didn’t work’.
Here are my tips for getting the most bang for your buck.
Find a therapist you like.
Obviously, you won’t ‘know’ the therapist but it is imperative that you feel as though you connect to that person. You will be sharing your deepest self with them and a certain level of trust and comfort is needed for you to experience the kind of vulnerability that will ultimately help you. It may take a couple of tries with a few therapists to find one. Be patient and persevere through the process. Most therapists will refer you to someone ‘different’ than them if you let them know it’s not a good fit.
A therapist can only work with the information they receive. If you don’t lay all the puzzle pieces on the table, you are wasting your money and their time. If it is too difficult to throw it all out there in the beginning – say that. Let the counselor know that the story is hard for you to open up about but you hope to tell the whole of it as time goes by. We are trained to be patient and guide you gently to the truth.
Keep a Therapy Notebook.
And take it to your appointments. You only have an hour and in that hour your therapist may share some important information with you. It’s difficult to remember everything when you get home especially if the session was emotional. In addition, there may be ‘homework’ and you’ll have more success if you know exactly what is recommended. If you can’t write in the session for some reason – when you get to your car – write down your thoughts; as many as you can while it is fresh in your mind. In addition, keep the notebook near you in between sessions so that you can write down thoughts and/or questions you want to discuss at your next meeting.
Do the Work.
Not only is it important for you to do the ‘homework’ but you only spend an hour (on average) a week with your counselor. What are you doing the other roughly 150 – 180 hours in between therapy appointments? It’s vital for you to *think* about your situation, your growing opportunities, and the ideas / suggestions that your therapist makes after you leave the office.
There are thousands of books about various mental health topics and a few of them are excellent in each subject matter. Your therapist has one perspective that is beneficial and either supporting it or gaining another by reading is often valuable. Many counselors recommend supportive reading, so ask. Read, underline, earmark, highlight the parts of the book that resonate with you – ignore the parts that don’t. Not every paragraph or chapter applies to your particular scenario so don’t let the parts that you don’t connect to rob you, deter you from the parts that speak to your heart. Furthermore, if you find you are stuck on something, make a note and bring it up in therapy; perhaps it is a point that you can pull apart and digest in session.
One of the biggest mistakes people make regarding therapy is that they stop going when they begin to feel a little better. However, lasting change needs reinforced and cemented into place. Clearly, the frequency of sessions can decrease as you improve but maintaining change is a supportive process and your therapist is the key support person.
Change takes time! Sure, you want to feel better now; we understand. Realize though that true change, the kind that lasts longer than a few weeks – happens slowly. In many ways, you are learning a new language; a new way of being. Chances are your situation didn’t evolve over a short time span and so it’s irrational to think that it can change right away.
Going to therapy is one of the best ways to practice self-care. You are making time to look at yourself and make a change. That’s great! It’s incredibly important for you to express internal kindness – be a friend to yourself – throughout the process. Many, many people struggle from time to time because no one is perfect and no one can go it alone ALL the time and stay healthy. Make learning to love yourself part of your growth.
Let your peeps – those who know and love you – know about this important step you’ve taken to feel better about yourself and your life. Again – no one is without some element of hardship or challenge from time to time. Working to make positive change in one’s life is an extremely respectable step.
Therapists don’t know everything. Sometimes, we hypothesis as we collect information from you and our suggestions don’t work or need to be reworked. Let us know what is helping you and what isn’t. If we make a recommendation and it feels really ‘off’ to you – say something. Our job and our passion is to help you feel better.
There are dozens of different therapeutic ideologies that counselors practice from. Some are solidly positioned inside one frame (i.e., Psychodynamic Theory) and others are eclectic – pulling strategies from a variety of platforms. There are as many different types, styles, and personalities of mental health professionals as there are people. For the best result – first and foremost – find someone you like!
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