It can be a bit difficult to decide to go to therapy. Whether you are given a choice or must attend substance abuse treatment, seeing a therapist might fill you with trepidation. Maybe you have never been to a therapist before, or maybe you have had therapy previously. You might have a multitude of questions—some you want to ask before therapy and other questions for the therapist. It can be rough to find a therapist whose personality, style, and experience will be a good fit for you. After all, you will be spending a good amount of time with this person.
There is a multitude of advice on the Internet about how to get the most out of therapy. Maybe you’ve read some of those pages. You may even be employing some of the advice given. Good. We do believe that more is better and even different in scope.
These five essential tips to getting the most out of therapy might prove useful to you. If one section doesn’t pertain to your personal situation, then the other sections might. Keep an open mind as you peruse them, and write down anything else you want to add. It’s your therapy that’s most important, not what we think your therapy should be.
1. Prepare for Your First Therapy Session
Here are some tips to consider before you choose a therapist or attend your first session. Of course, you can create your own questions to ask, too.
Questions to Ask Yourself About the Therapist
- Do you want to work with this therapist?
- Do you feel they are a good fit for your personality and needs?
- Do you feel comfortable and secure in their office?
- Is there anything about the therapist or their space that does not “feel right?”
- Do you think you can go the course with this therapist?
Your first two to three sessions will more than likely be “get to know you” sessions where both you and the therapist ask questions and receive answers about each other. Also, you want to be sure the therapist is someone you feel you can freely open up to.
Set Your Own Therapy Goals
You might know what you want to get out of therapy, and it’s wise to write down your therapy goals and share them with the therapist in your first or second session. Much like a job interview, you want to know if the therapist is on the same page as you and shares the same goals for you.
2. Your First Therapy Session
Before you become fully invested in therapy, it’s wise to know who you will be meeting with and tackle the financial responsibilities of therapy. Below, we provide some suggestions about learning more about this professional you’ll be working with, setting meeting times, and payment.
Getting to Know the Therapist
PsychCentral offers good advice about getting to know your therapist. Along with that, below are some valid questions to ask in your initial session:
- What is your specialization?
- Do you have a certification in any specialty?
- Have you worked with people with my needs before?
- How well did the others do when they were in therapy with you?
- What approaches do you use? Will you please explain what each one utilizes and how it will best help me?
- How long is each session?
- What is expected of me in each session?
Payment and Scheduling
Before your first session, be sure that you and your therapist both know how each session will be paid for, whether with insurance or some other way and for how long. You can check with your insurance provider and find out if you will have any out-of-pocket fees to pay. It’s smart to get this aspect of therapy handled before you dive into your sessions.
In addition, if you feel this is the right therapist, set up regular meeting days and times before you delve into therapy. Then, add those meetings to your digital calendar and set reminders for them. Be sure to keep every appointment made; otherwise, your therapy goals will take longer to be met. You might also need to go to therapy longer.
4. Therapy Is Now in Session
Now that you feel good about the therapist and have started regular sessions, you may be feeling a little unsure of yourself. Don’t worry; that’s normal. We’ve got your back. See below for advice about being in therapy.
Be Yourself in Therapy
Therapy is meant to be a safe and non-judgmental place. It is the one secure environment where you need to feel like you can truly be your authentic self, no matter who or what that self is. We are all different. Bring every single part of you into therapy and let that part come out wholly. GoodTherapy advises that those parts of you that you tend to hide or deny are best brought out and discussed in your sessions. If your emotions become too much to hold in, let them out. This is a safe space, as GoodTherapy suggests.
One of the most beneficial aspects of therapy is recognizing there will be sessions that are uncomfortable. It may be relating a bad experience you had or trying to solve a complex problem; sometimes, therapy can be distressing. That’s OK. You can work through that, and progress will be made.
Also, know that if you are not completely honest in therapy, it will be more difficult for the therapist to help you meet your goals. Focus on yourself and the aspects of your life that you want to get back in control. Try to avoid talking about other people’s problems. These therapy sessions are about you and for you.
Insights and Notepads
When you are not in a therapy session, take time to reflect on what you and the therapist discussed and really dive deep into it. Buy a notepad or notebook and write down whatever comes to your mind. What insights have you discovered? What can you do with those insights? You may have an idea about how to handle a specific situation that’s caused you stress, anxiety, or distress before but in a new and more positive way. Write it down so it will be available for your next session. Also, write down any new techniques for managing tough circumstances and practice using them when not in the session.
Each new challenge in your life is a new opportunity to learn and grow, as noted by the University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center. Take what you learn in therapy and meet the challenges with gusto.
5. Knowledge Is Strength
You’ve heard the expression that knowledge is power, but for you in and out of therapy, knowledge is strength. Know that you are not a “broken” person but an individual that’s working through very challenging and difficult circumstances. It takes strength to do that. You are learning healthier, more positive, and useful alternatives in handling tough situations.
Addiction is one of them. No one chooses to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. If you are addicted to one or more of them, therapy can help you find your way to steer clear of them as you advance in therapy. Relapse prevention is one such way that has benefited many people from using substances again. If you should relapse, know that it is not a failure, and neither are you. It just means you need to refocus on therapy and the parts of it you learned to prevent use again.
In It for the Long Run
Your problems won’t be solved in the first few weeks of therapy. It is usually a long process for most individuals. Therapy doesn’t follow a perfectly straight line, but one that has bends and turns to it. You may think that you are not progressing, but you are. It may take a few steps back and a few forward, day by day, but that’s still progress.
If you have a question, ask it. Psychology Today writes that sometimes individuals don’t ask questions because they think it’s not allowed. That’s not true. Ask whatever you want, even if you think it’s not OK. If you don’t understand what the therapist said or asks you to do, ask to clarify it. Ask why. Why am I so anxious, angry, stressed out, depressed, or feeling guilty? Why do certain people irk me to the point that I need to abuse substances and/or act out? Why do I think, feel, and behave the way I do? Why? Keep asking questions. You might learn something about yourself (you have power too).
Use what you’ve learned every day, be open and honest with your therapist and yourself, and you will get the most out of therapy.