Therapy can be daunting for both potential and long-time patients. Being clear with yourself and your clinician about expectations is critical, but there are things you can do beginning before your first session to help maximize your experience. In order to get the most out of your therapy session, spend some time selecting someone who is a good fit, empower yourself to be your own advocate, lay a foundation for trust, and dive into self-work outside sessions.
Pick the Right One
You probably wouldn’t jump right into buying a car without test driving it; therapists are similar. Take time to interview different clinicians, over the phone or in person. Find out whether they attend therapy, what their special areas of interest might be, and a little about who they are as a person. If you’re going to be entrusting this individual with your personal emotions, goals, and challenges, they should be someone you can see yourself building trust with.
Advocate for Yourself
If you’ve picked your therapist, gone to see them for a year, and still aren’t feeling satisfied with the amount of progress you’ve made, do something about it. Have open dialogue with your practitioner about expectations regarding progress, whatever that looks like in your mind. If you feel that you’re both being clear and you’re still not satisfied with the amount of change happening, don’t be afraid to shop around for another therapist. Unfortunately, lack of progress and being “stuck” in a stagnant, long term therapy relationship is fairly common.
Similarly, remember that you know yourself best. If you happen to be a raging extrovert who enjoys sharing and you regularly talk yourself through things if someone listens, it’s possible you would do best with a more reserved clinician. Conversely, if you’re someone who needs a little extra encouragement to share or to face challenges, own that and seek someone more outgoing who might be able to nudge you toward confronting whatever you may need to.
It’s one thing to understand the content of an exercise in therapy and another to understand the concept behind it. If you are someone who typically benefits from understanding the rationale behind a particular method, communicate that. Pair with someone who will take the time to explain methodology to you if that’s an important piece.
Make Time for Trust
Before any of the real meaty work begins, take time to build trust with the person you’ve selected to help you. Ask questions about whatever you need to know in order to assure yourself that indeed, this is a real person. Understand their role and yours, square away logistics like payment, time, and location of appointments. Tying up these loose ends during the first or second visit may help to acclimate you to therapy so that you can begin to open up.
Do Your Homework
Many people assume that “what happens in therapy stays in therapy.” While this is true regarding confidentiality, it may not be equally as true regarding the work you do. If you are given exercises to work with between sessions, utilize and practice them. If you are encouraged to think about a particular set of beliefs or to explore something before you next see your therapist, take the initiative and consider it. Continuous effort will contribute to progress.
Making time to select your therapist, understand your own needs, build trust, and take initiative will all contribute to effective therapy. Pay attention to thoughts and feelings about your therapy experience, and stay open with yourself about expectations. Only you know whether or not you are getting what you need out of your work.