Finally ready to talk to someone? Maybe you used to go to therapy, but it’s been a minute since you last attended. Going to therapy can feel like a daunting, exciting, time consuming and possibly life changing experience. Therapy, when matched with the right therapist and the right approach, can be an immensely healing process. However, your time is valuable, so you want it to be worthwhile, right? As a psychotherapist and recipient of therapy, here are a few tips to make the most of your time in therapy.
Heard the saying “90% of life is showing up?” This is somewhat true to therapy, although there is a lot more work to it (more on that later!). One simple way to ensure you are making the most of your therapeutic journey is to attend consistently. This means every week, if possible. Weekly may not be doable for everybody. Maybe financially it’s too much or the therapist does not have the availability. Every other week can be effective, but it’s important to regularly attend. It’s amazing how much time can go by if you cancel a session here or there. Consistent appointments give you the opportunity to build rapport with your therapist and begin working on your goals sooner. Likewise, when you attend weekly there is often less to catch up on between sessions and more time to dig into the work.
Virtual or In-Person?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I would have told you that virtual sessions were nowhere near as effective as in-person. However, since the pandemic, I have seen numerous virtual sessions that have been just as beneficial as in-person. Yes, it can feel easier to build rapport in person (I personally like being able to hand my client a tissue.) But as far as which is more effective, I say it depends on who you are and how you use it. If you want virtual sessions, or for numerous reasons in-person is not an option, make sure you can be present for the time, the same way you would for an office appointment. Find a space where you have privacy, there are limited distractions and you have good internet connection. Running around, trying to get things done while you are on a video call with your therapist will only hurt your progress.
Do The Work Outside of Therapy
A big misconception I have found about mental health is that just attending therapy is enough. Yes, making the commitment is significant, but therapy is only about 50 minutes a week. Compare that to the 167 hours leftover in a week. There is so much work between appointments that needs to be done. Working with your therapist on dating? That means getting on the apps or frequenting a local coffee shop and putting yourself out there. Processing ways to manage your panic attacks? You will need to try (consistently) the breathing exercises your therapist taught you. Think about the ways you will incorporate the therapeutic concepts and approaches into your daily life.
Ask For Feedback and Homework
Speaking of work, it can be helpful to specifically ask for homework, if your therapist does not offer it already. Some therapeutic approaches, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, are big on homework. Others, like EMDR, not so much. If your therapist does not give homework, ask for things to keep in mind between sessions or tools you can use. I often encourage my clients to journal regularly, especially those with sleep issues. I’ll also mention perspectives to try for the week, like taking a mindful approach to their anxiety. Having homework can help clients remember the work they need to do in between appointments.
Feedback is another valuable part of therapy. Not sure how your time in counseling is going? Ask your therapist. Often I’ve found that clients underestimate the growth they are having and do not see the progress they are making. Your therapist can also share how you can continue making progress. Maybe you need to practice more of the tools being taught in sessions. Perhaps you are too focused on exploring the “why” of your behavior and need to begin taking steps towards change. However it is going, do not be afraid to ask.
Another misconception people have about therapy is that it offers quick healing. This is not an auto body shop where you come in and leave once you are “fixed.” You are not broken, so there is no fixing to be done. The healing and growth that comes from therapy takes time. It can take a few sessions just to build rapport and decide if your therapist is a match. Regardless of what you are working on - healing from past trauma, managing depression, ending toxic relationships - all of that takes time. Be patient with yourself and the journey.
A fair question I’m sure you may be asking is, OK so how long exactly? There is no exact time frame. There are so many factors at play. What you are deciding to work on, session frequency, the treatment model your therapist is using, outside stressors - that can all impact your process. If you have been working with a therapist for at least three months consistently and do not notice a change, address these concerns with your clinician.
Personal growth and healing is never an easy process. It can be challenging, uncomfortable, scary and exhausting. Therapy can be a powerful tool in that process. Consider these steps if you are wanting to gain the most of your therapeutic journey and become your best self. So roll up your sleeves and get into the messy work. Your future self may thank you.
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