How To Get The Most Out Of Therapy/ Part One, Inside The Therapy Room
Therapy can feel difficult to understand. It often comes with no directions. Outside of therapy few people talk in detail about their experiences with counseling. How is anyone supposed to know how to get the most out of the experience? And making it even harder, if you ask a therapist for directions some therapists may just tell you that therapy is easy, or assume you already know how to act in therapy, or tell you that therapy is about “Just being yourself” and “just saying what’s on your mind”. There is some truth in these statements. Therapy really is all about being yourself. But there are different ways to “be yourself” and there are some things you can get more out of the therapeutic experience. Here are a few things you can do in therapy to make the most of your time in the room.
1) Ask questions
It can be difficult in therapy to understand what is going on and, like in most of our relationships, it can be easy to just let things slide. You may even feel like asking questions in therapy is not allowed. But questions are a part of any good relationship and this goes doubly so in therapy. So please ask away!
Part of what makes asking question in therapy confusing is that sometimes your therapist won’t answer your questions. But this is not because you shouldn’t ask them. Not answering all of your questions is what a therapist does when they have good boundaries. And when you ask your questions it helps you and your therapist explore your point of view and how you see the world. Your questions may even supply the therapist with important and necessary information.
It is up to your therapist to decide what they will or will not answer and to explain the boundaries, but therapy always grows from questions. Like in life, there are no stupid questions and nothing is off limits. You can ask about the therapists opinion on prozac, how many children they have, or what they really think about you. Your therapist might give you a strait answer, follow up your questions with some of their own questions, or explain boundaries. No matter how they answer it will be enlightening.
2) Be as honest and straightforward as possible.
It is important to be honest about the difficult things that are going on in your life. After all, you are in therapy to work on the difficult problems. Yet it is amazing how many important experiences don’t come up during therapy sessions. This is partially because we have grown up being told to avoid saying things that are too personal, make us feel hopeless, or feel too upsetting. It can be hard to break through that barrier. Take the time between sessions to think about what you did bring up and what you did not. If you find you are avoiding certain issues again and again make a commitment to bring it up during your next session.
3) Speak up if something is bothering you
Your therapist will eventually do something that bothers you, this is an inevitable part of all relationships. When you find yourself unsettled by something that happened in therapy let your therapist know. Therapy is about creating a healing relationship that can handle the difficulties that come up. Few things are as healing as having someone really hear you when you tell them how they upset you.
Also, if something is bothering you it may be because you are experiencing an important boundary violation. If you are feeling like your therapist is not respecting a boundary then let them know so that you both can help create a safe environment. Your therapists number one job is to keep you safe and anything you can do to collaborate in that effort can only make the therapy stronger.
4) Talk about the therapeutic relationship
The therapeutic relationship is a jargon-y term that just means the relationship you are developing between you and your therapist. And it is the most important relationship to talk about in therapy. Talking about the therapeutic relationship can mean anything from talking about the discomfort you are feeling from being in therapy to letting your therapist know about the weird dream you had about them the other night or how when they tap their foot that certain way it drives you up the wall!
Your relationship with your therapist is going to bring up all sorts of emotions and weird thoughts. But these are some of the most powerful and useful things to talk about. After all where else can you tell someone about how you had a dream that they were half a donkey and half a walrus or tell someone that after your last meeting you were suddenly hit with an intense feeling of jealously towards them. Not only has your therapists been trained to respond well to these experiences, they have also been trained to help you learn from the experiences and understand what they mean. These are powerful moments and you deserve to understand why they are happening.
5) Check in on your progress
How is therapy going anyways? You and your therapist should be checking in every 3-4 months on the progress. By setting goals for yourself at the beginning you can also give yourself some concrete objectives to move towards and measure for change. So much of therapy is difficult to define but this will make it easier to define success. Therapy is a lot of things but it should never be unproductive.
6) Give voice to your random thoughts
We all have random and tangential thoughts that pop into our mind. General etiquette demands that we try to stay on topic and ignore those thoughts. However, in therapy, the rule is just the opposite. Those thoughts hold a wealth of information and are often key to understand a particularly difficult subject. In some ways random thoughts can be considered your mind trying to give voice to something too complex to talk about in any other way. So please voice those thoughts often and fully! They are like gold to a therapy session.
Taking these steps and acting in this way will probably feel a little strange. By follow these steps you will find yourself talking about yourself and speaking in ways that you never spoken before. And that is part of how therapy heals. By giving us a completely new kind of relationship and allowing people to act in ways that finally let them connect with parts of themselves that they have been out of touch with for far too long.
I hope you take the time you have in therapy as an opportunity and use this list to take a big step towards change. After all, we all deserve to heal.
-Shoshana Aal, Psy.D