How To Benefit From Your Therapy Experience
By: Kevin Elliott, LCPC
After you find a therapist that you want to work with, here are five things you can do to help you make the most of the experience.
1. Disclose fully.
Once you find a therapist, the relationship is just beginning. Now it is time for you to get to know each other. The therapist will be finding out about you, your thoughts and feelings, and your life circumstances. She may ask you things that seem irrelevant to you. Her job is to lead you into places you might not think of going. If there is anything you don’t understand or feel uncomfortable answering, let her know about that.
Be honest and don’t hold back in sharing your thoughts or feelings, even if you think the therapist may find them confusing or contradictory. Don’t avoid talking about things that you may find painful, embarrassing, or shameful. Don’t censor out irrational thoughts just because you know they are irrational. You can always preface the thoughts by telling the therapist, “I realize this is irrational, but…”
Keep in mind that what you share with your therapist is protected by confidentiality, and your therapist can explain what this means, in the context of your therapeutic relationship.
2. Set goals.
Perhaps you’ll be very clear about your therapy goals and be able to express them to your therapist at the outset. But more often you are coming in with a set of problems or issues and you’ll rely on the therapist to help you find what goals may be able to be accomplished. Then you can set your therapy goals together.
3. Be open-minded to new ideas.
Try to set aside preconceived ideas about how to solve your problems or how you believe that therapy should proceed. This does not mean that you need to blindly accept what your therapist says, but do consider it with an open mind. If it does not seem right to you, discuss it with your therapist, tell her if you are uncomfortable, or that you don’t understand, don’t agree, or don’t like the direction therapy is going. With your mind open, ask her to help you understand, but never feel you must agree with everything your therapist suggests.
4. Do your own work.
Take what you discover or learn in the therapy session and apply it or work with it in your life, not just in the session. If you aren’t sure how to do that, discuss it with your therapist before you end each session. Don't lose sight of what you want to learn, resolve, or achieve from therapy. Notice when the focus is diverted from your areas of concern.
The most critical factors for successful counseling are for the therapist to be able to accurately understand your feelings and concerns, have an accepting nonjudgmental attitude toward you and your issues, and for both of you to be able to be authentic and real. The development of a positive, trusting relationship with the therapist is critical. Of course this won’t always happen in one or two sessions, but certainly by the fourth or fifth session, you should feel progress in this area, and indeed more hopefulness about your situation. If not, it may be time to re-evaluate.
If you don’t feel progress is being made toward helping you solve your problems or reach your goals, don’t assume that therapy can’t help you. Hopefully, you’ll be able to talk to your current therapist about your options. The two of you can explore what may be serving as an obstacle to moving forward. She may be able to change her therapeutic approach, recommend a colleague who might be a better fit, or consult with a colleague or supervisor about other options for you. Professional therapists realize that they are not a perfect fit for every potential client and will be open to change, if that is in your best interest.
Ultimately, it is your choice whether to end therapy if you believe that it isn’t helping you as you would like. Your therapist will be likely to discuss with you how therapy sometimes includes points of feeling stuck, of experiencing resistance, or even of taking a step back. All of these experiences can present opportunities for self-exploration. However, a good therapist will encourage you to trust yourself, if you believe that you need to end the relationship or seek a change. But again, please don’t give up on the therapeutic process, just because one relationship didn’t turn out to be the right fit.
At Elliott Counseling Group, we are committed to employing a wide variety of therapists, so that we can better ensure that each of our clients has a positive experience. Please give the above guidelines consideration, but know that if you need to change therapists, we can make it an easy transition. Our client care staff will work with you at any time to explore your options.