With everything going on in the world, it’s no surprise that many people have become more open to receiving mental health care than they otherwise would have been. This is great news, as it’s always a good time to prioritize your mental health. But it can also be hard to know where to start and how to get the most out of this work—especially if you’re brand new to therapy. In this article, we shall discuss tips to get the absolute most out of therapy.
Deciding to embark on therapy is a huge milestone. Months and years from now—after you’ve put in the hard work to identify issues and exact real change—you’ll be able to recognize that first step as a clear inflection point in your life.
“Therapy is instrumental in supporting anyone’s mental health,” notes Allison Chase, Ph.D., CEDS. “It is the opportunity to get professional support in processing the challenging and often overwhelming thoughts and feelings one may struggle with, which can frequently result in unhealthy and maladaptive behaviors.”
Once you’ve made the decision to begin this journey, it only makes sense that you want to ensure you’re getting the most out of each session. Below are six ways you can get the most out of therapy.
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Search for the Best Therapeutic Fit
In the same way, you don’t naturally sync with everyone you meet, it can take some time to find the best therapeutic fit. But finding that person is an important part of the journey, and will ultimately set you up for success.
In fact, research has found that patients get the most out of therapy when they feel a genuine connection with the mental health professional treating them.
- Start by writing down what you’re looking for in a therapist.
- Next, research nearby therapists by reading their biographies and learning about their therapeutic approach.
- From there, schedule a free consultation with anyone who stands out to you.
“You can use the consultation to understand the therapist’s specialties, what therapeutic modalities they use, and if their style of therapy can benefit you,” advises Leanna Stockard, LMFT.
While finding a therapist that matches your wants and needs is very important, finding comfort and confidence in the therapist you choose is also key for a positive therapeutic relationship.
Be Mindful of Appointment Times
Timing won’t always be perfect, but your therapist should be available at times that are convenient for you. Dr. Chase also notes you’ll want to allow yourself time to digest and process any challenging discussions or topics that arise during your session.
Try to have some hours after therapy without work meetings or personal obligations to be able to process or stay in the emotional moment of the work that was done.
Also, note that when timing or location becomes a hindrance, it may deter you from making sessions that may already be a challenge to attend. You may find that online therapy is the most convenient and therefore effective for you or you may find that a 30-minute drive gives you the time to process before diving back into the tasks waiting for you at home or work.
Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable
Showing up to therapy is an incredible step. It’s also important to open yourself up once you’ve walked through those doors so you can get the most out of each therapy session.
Dr. Chase says that being vulnerable and honest allows for a greater level of depth of work to help manage any current mental health challenges. Be candid with your thoughts and feelings, share impactful events from your past, and discuss previous therapy experiences.
Be Forthright & Set Clear Goals
Understand what is bringing you to therapy and communicate this to your therapist. While therapists can provide insight into who you are and help you set and work toward goals, it remains vital for you, as the patient, to explain why you’re there and what you want to work on.
One of the most effective strategies is for people to make a list of topics/themes they want to work on for the session so they don’t get caught up in the content or drama of the week and instead are able to make meaningful progress towards their goals.
Research suggests that psychotherapy is more effective when patients set clearly-defined goals.
“Your therapist can work with you to develop strategies that will help you work toward your goals, and they may even assign you homework,” notes Stockard. “It is important to keep up with these strategies or homework so [that] you can determine if these skills will be beneficial for you in the long run.”
While in therapy, remain honest with yourself and consistently evaluate how progress is going with your treatment plan.
Maintain Realistic Expectations
Goal setting is helpful in getting the most out of therapy, but it’s also imperative to be gentle with yourself. To that end, keep realistic expectations for yourself throughout the therapeutic process.
“I frequently recognize two things with my clients,” says Stockard. “Either patients are disappointed that they are not making progress fast enough, or they do not see their progress at all.”
She recommends framing therapy the way you would when learning a new skill or building muscle. Start small, accept that there will be faltering along the way, and recognize that the journey is just as important as the end goal.
Nurture Yourself After Each Session
Therapy can change your life, but it’s not always going to be a walk in the park. You may leave a session feeling a heavy burden of emotions, unveil painful blind spots you never saw before, and have to do some hard work.
Take time for yourself after a session to process your takeaways, take care of yourself emotionally, or do something you love.
Be gentle with yourself throughout the process and make sure you’re taking time after (and between) each therapy session to nourish your mind and spirit.
In summary, every day we experience challenging scenarios, negative thoughts, and complex emotions. Working with the right therapist can help you identify coping skills that work against you in these moments versus helping you navigate them with kindness toward yourself and others. They can also help you figure out new and better ways to adapt and find growth. Stay the course, remain vulnerable, and allow yourself some grace.
I hope you find this article helpful as well as interesting.