You’ve decided to start seeing a therapist and have found one that will work best for you— thus beginning what can be an incredibly rewarding and life-changing relationship.
To make the most of therapy, it is helpful to be open to the work, which is both incredibly rewarding and can definitely be intimidating. One of the ways in which therapy works best, is when the therapist and the client both commit to showing up. Below are a few helpful things to consider to help make the most out of your therapeutic experience.
Yes, it may sound a bit cliche, but therapy works best when it is consistent, and occurs on a weekly basis. In order to help with this, I encourage clients to be really honest when committing to showing up for therapy, and booking their sessions in a way that works best for them and their needs. For example, if you know that you are at most alert first thing in the morning, a 7:45am appointment may be your sweet spot! For others, committing to this time could be a weekly battle and may present ongoing challenges. One rule of thumb is to stay away from the lunchtime hour. It may be hard to be fully present during this type of session; walking away from your desk or phone is challenging during this busy time of day. Think about what time works best for you, and go for it!
Therapy is most effective when you are able to get a good grasp on the skills you want to improve upon, and work to apply them outside of the session. This may mean clarifying how you can best approach a situation, rehearsing it within a session, and making a concrete plan that accounts for disruptions that inevitably come up. Some examples include thinking about ways to tolerate difficult conversations, how to express personal boundaries, or mindful ways of deescalating your anxiety. Sometimes a therapist may suggest something that you find feels unrealistic. If you can’t imagine doing it, or know it won’t work for you, it is completely okay to let them know. Assignments/ action plans are for your benefit, not to appease your therapist. As a therapist, my primary goal is to help my clients achieve their goals and cope better. My suggestions are to aid the client’s best interest.
If something isn’t working in your session, or your therapist is misinterpreting what you’re saying, it is normal and completely okay to let them know. It may feel uncomfortable to express dissatisfaction but it’s also a wonderful opportunity for growth and to practice assertive communication in a way that is collaborative instead of punitive. Additionally, know that your therapist is a trained professional and can handle both feedback and making adjustments to suit your needs. This extends to the importance of being honest in therapy. As a clinician, I am able to provide the best care if my client tells me what is going on for them. While it may be hard to be vulnerable, therapy is a great way to practice, and if you are nervous, it can also be helpful to talk about these feelings in therapy.
Getting into the habit of writing anything down that feels meaning-making, centering, clarifying, inspiring or helpful, will exponentially improve your chances of being able to master the skills and understandings from your session to apply them in your everyday life - which is when therapy is at its most effective. Writing things down places emphasis on not only how you say things, but the way you say it. It’s a wonderful opportunity for ownership around the language you use to describe your inner experience. And if you want to write down exactly what the therapist says as well, that works too! By working collaboratively, you can clarify the meaning in a way that works for you and is that much more likely to stick. In addition, making (mental) note throughout the week of things that you want to talk about in your session is also very helpful. A week can be a surprisingly long time, and it’s great to be aware of things that come up for you.
Therapy is hard and may feel worse before it feels better. Go at a pace that feels right to you, but know that growth doesn’t always feel easy or right. Give yourself permission to question things you’ve held as truths, and know that your therapist has been specially trained to provide both support and resources along the way.
Meg Josephson is a LCSW in private practice based in NYC. As a therapist, Meg is committed to providing therapy that is both compassionate and practical. Some of Meg’s clients seek therapy to address a concrete issue or relationship; others come out of a more abstract sense that something in their lives could be different or more fulfilling. By exploring and defining their personal values, Meg works with her clients to take the necessary steps in developing richer, more rewarding relationships and lives. If you would like to connect with Meg, please email at [email protected], or follow her on social @citytherapist.