Getting the Most Out of Therapy
Like with many other forms of learning, a lot of the consolidation of knowledge and understanding that happens in psychotherapy occurs outside the therapy session – on the drive home, while you’re mulling things over in the shower, or while you’re lying in bed. If you want to make the most of the time in therapy, there’s a few things you can do to help things along.
If you try out some of the recommendations below, you’ll probably find that your therapy sessions are richer, feel as if they go deeper, and become more meaningful for you. Feel free to discuss these things with me if any of the suggestions seem unclear, or you’d like more ideas about how to go about them.
Keep a Journal
This is number one because it can be so important. You don’t need to write a detailed list of all the things that happened during your day, but it’s worth making notes at least a few times a week, particularly about any of the following topics:
Any strong thoughts or feelings about the topic that brought you to therapy
Any examples of the types of problems that you want to work on that happened during the week
Any unusually strong feelings during the week
Any thoughts or feelings about therapy or the therapist
Any thoughts or feelings about what was discussed in the last therapy session
Any dreams that stood out to you, particularly dreams with strong feelings associated with them
Talk About It, Whatever It Is
It might seem simple, but for most of us talking about our problems is extremely difficult. We might be able to talk about it in vague terms, but being specific about what’s bothering us is often much harder – maybe we’re worried we won’t be taken seriously, or that we’ll be judged. Perhaps we are concerned that we’re making too big a deal of something, or that the therapist wouldn’t understand or couldn’t help anyway.
In therapy, it’s important to talk about all these things even when it feels difficult. Easier said than done, but remember that there is nothing that cannot be discussed in therapy – that’s what the process is for.
To make progress in therapy, it's important to take risks. After all, if it felt comfortable and easy to make the changes you wanted, you'd have done it already. Try and take a small risk each session, whether it's bringing up something you've never spoken about before, giving me feedback about our work together, making more eye contact, or allowing yourself to ask a question you've held back from asking.
Only you can know what will be a risk for you, and what will be important to talk about. At the same time, it's also important to task risks that feel challenging but manageable - don't rush to jump into something that feels totally unsafe or overwhelming, but maybe see if there's a smaller step you can take that still feels like a challenge.
Get in the habit of observing yourself during the week - see how much you can notice, particularly in the sort of situations that you are wanting to address in therapy, of your thoughts, feelings and actions and the links between them. In particular, see if you are able to step back and take note of what is happening within you without judging, interpreting or criticisng it. You could think of it a little bit as if you were trying to be a news reporter on your own life - just notice the facts of what you did, thought and felt without deciding if it was good, bad or otherwise
A big part of therapy is about noticing the links between thoughts, feelings and actions and recognising the patterns that are creating problems in your life. The more information we have to work with, the better our chances of being able to help you get to where you want to be.
Give Yourself Time
If you can, arrive for therapy at least ten minutes before your appointment and spend this time in the waiting room without reading, texting or otherwise distracting yourself. Use this space to think over what you would like to talk about, and how you’re feeling about going into therapy today.
It takes most of us some time to ‘switch gears’, especially if you’ve just come from work or something else that has required your attention, so giving yourself time to do this will help make sure that you get the most out of our time together. Similarly, try not to have anything that requires too much mental energy immediately after therapy, and if you’re driving home leave the radio off to give yourself time to digest what we’ve been talking about.
Talk About The Therapy
There will be times in therapy when it will feel as if you’re getting nowhere, or that I’m focusing on the wrong things. When this happens, let me know – it’s often a sign that we need to do something different. You’ll usually know before I do if something doesn’t feel relevant or important right now, so bring it up when this happens.
Similarly, if you feel hurt or angry about something I say or do, let me know – for therapy to work, we need to be working well together and so it’s really important that you give me feedback if it feels as if that’s not happening.