Psychotherapy is personal and subjective, but there are general ways to get more out of the experience.
There is a lot of mystery around the process of psychotherapy. Many individuals beginning their therapeutic journey aren’t sure what it “should” look like.The good news is, therapy is a flexible, ever-evolving and personal experience. It is co-created between you and your therapist. While there’s no one size fits all, here are some compassionate and encouraging guidelines that may be useful in navigating your first sessions and getting the most out of your therapy.
5 ways of getting the most of your therapy
Making an appointment is the first step. But what happens after will determine how your treatment progresses. Here are 5 suggestions to consider:
- Share your feelings toward your therapist.
We all have fantasies about people before we meet them. That first meeting with your therapist can go any number of ways. Maybe it was a total let down or maybe you’re not quite sure if they’re the right fit. Regardless of how you feel, it’s important to discuss those feelings. Why is this essential? Research studies show the number one indicator of successful treatment is the strength of the relationship between patient and therapist. Let’s get real — building a relationship takes time, and like most relationships, it requires honesty and hard work. It’s inevitable your therapist will disappoint you in some way, but sharing your feelings will most likely strengthen your relationship and the treatment.
2. Share your expectations and goals for treatment.
Some questions to consider: What are you hoping to get out of therapy? What role do you expect your therapist to play? These questions are important because they help bring to light unconscious wishes and fantasies you may carry. You may want your therapist to read your mind and become frustrated when you realize you have to do the work of sharing your thoughts. Perhaps you expect to feel better after each session. Or maybe you don’t believe anyone can really help you. All of these thoughts and feelings will play a role in the course of your therapy. Having expectations is part of being human. It’s crucial to name these feelings because they exist, albeit unspoken, in the room and in your dynamic with the therapist.
3. Go to therapy consistently.
Continuity of treatment is important for a few reasons. Most people are in therapy once a week and a lot is stirred up between sessions. This process is frustrating! 50 minutes is not a lot of time to catch up and dive deeply into your issues. It takes time to settle in and open up. Because therapy brings up uncomfortable feelings, it can feel tempting to skip a session when you’re having a great week. However, breaks in the treatment make it difficult to make headway into your unconscious mind. Think of the layers of an onion as an analogy to treatment. Each week you and your therapist explore a layer. Sometimes, you spend weeks looking at the same layer. The goal is to get to the core—the root cause of your symptoms. The longer the stretch of missed sessions, the harder it is to get back into it.
4. Speak as freely as you can.
This is important because your associations and thoughts are telling of the ways in which you interpret reality and make sense of the world. Speaking freely creates space to uncover unconscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that may be at the root of a pattern. This is hard because it requires rigorous honesty. It means facing the thoughts you minimize because they trigger feelings of shame, dependency, envy, anger, etc. It’s about owning the feelings, even if they may seem silly or embarrassing. No one approaches this process perfectly. That would be impossible. Yet, the more open and honest you are about your thoughts and feelings, the more deeply you can explore your unconscious mind. Becoming aware is the beginning of change.
5. Be radically curious.
Curiosity is the golden rule of therapy. Why? Because curiosity is the antidote to criticism and judgment. Therapy is an excavation of your mind and internal world. The process is uncomfortable because you learn about parts of yourself you may dislike. In an attempt to cope, you’ve likely categorized those parts as “good” or “bad.” However, if you can tolerate the difficulty in looking at these parts, you may be able to see you’re the one assigning them value. Curiosity allows you to look at yourself with a compassionate, non-judgmental lens so you don’t need to cut-off aspects of yourself you’re ashamed of. You and your therapist can explore, make sense, and use them to understand early life experiences.
Feeling ready to start your journey in psychotherapy?
Within the therapeutic relationship, you’ll be sure to find what works best for you. You may already have thoughts about your own version of the above suggestions. That’s great! Making the experience your own is a huge part of the process.