Therapists dedicate many years of education and countless hours in training to learn how how therapy works. People in treatment have to learn from scratch and may become so frustrated with our odd language and customs that they leave before getting the help they need. Here are a few tips to help clients acclimate to the world of therapy.
- Choose wisely: Many studies show that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is the most important factor for successful therapy, but some people spend more time deliberating their morning coffee selection than choosing their therapist. Take the time to read about a few potential therapists, looking for people who treat your particular concern and who have personal statements you can appreciate. Then “test drive” a few therapists to see who you feel most comfortable opening up to. Don’t worry about the therapists you don’t choose; we just want you to find your best match.
- Make it an hour: A typical therapy hour is only 45 or 50 minutes. Show up 10 minutes early to relax and think about what you need from the session.
- Then relationship: The quality of the relationship is essential, so this deserves special attention. If you didn’t understand something from the last session, if you’re feeling resentment, or if you’re thinking about ending therapy, it’s best to mention this at the beginning so you’ll have time to talk about it.
- Food for thought: What did I notice about myself this week? What do I want? How am I feeling? Sometimes people draw a blank in therapy. You can always come back to these three questions to find plenty of session-worthy material.
- Just ask: The enigmatic professional-yet-personal nature of therapy makes some clients reluctant to ask questions. Rather than spending energy trying to be polite, it’s best to just ask your questions to your therapist and let him or her respond or explain why he or she won’t.
- Clarify jargon: Some therapists have their own language and assume you’re fluent. If you find yourself lost in a sea of psychobabble—“Your introjected self-object validates an undifferentiated attunement”—please ask your therapist to translate. You don’t gain insight from language that makes no sense.
- Give feedback: Comment on your progress any time during your therapy. Do you feel safe in therapy? Is your therapist listening to you? Do you have an understanding of your issues and goals? What one thing would you change about therapy? You can evaluate your relationship at any time.
- Advise yourself: Some people believe therapy is a place where you are told how to live your life. More often, it’s a place where you clarify your thoughts and feelings, explore possibilities and outcomes, and ultimately make your own decisions. That’s empowerment.
- Share your thoughts freely: Therapy is one place where you don’t need to censor yourself. In fact, some of the most enlightening material comes from the thoughts, memories, and feelings that arise in therapy—the ones you’d probably brush aside in any other conversation.
- Accept growing pains: If you’re coming to therapy to change something in your life, be prepared for some discomfort. We say, “Things get worse before they get better” because it’s often true—introspection isn’t easy. If you do feel like therapy is becoming too challenging, talk to your therapist about it and let him or her help you with it.
- Plan a good ending: Therapy is one place in life where you can have a positive ending. Talk with your therapist about when you’ll be ready to end therapy and what that ending will look like. A thoughtful ending to your therapy can show you how to have satisfying closure in other areas of life.
Therapy is like a college course where the topic is you. The more you invest in understanding yourself and collaborating with the therapist, the more you’ll gain from the process. Enjoy!
Ryan Howes is the founder of The Psychotherapy Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to destigmatizing mental health and supporting underfunded mental health providers. GoodTherapy.org is proud to sponsor The Psychotherapy Foundation and commemorate the first annual National Psychotherapy Day on September 25, 2012. For more information on how to support The Psychotherapy Foundation and National Psychotherapy Day, please visit www.NationalPsychotherapyDay.com.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Ryan Howes, PhD, ABPP, therapist in Pasadena, California
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