Sam and Alex entered individual therapy at about the same time, with the same therapist. Both wanted to work on similar relationship issues, and both have similar histories. Sam usually keeps appointments, but sometimes cancels. Alex almost always attends sessions and reschedules, rather than cancels, when conflicts arise. Sam is very reflective, open, honest, and willing to explore difficult areas in sessions, but life outside of the therapy room remains largely unchanged. Alex works hard in sessions and takes risks by trying on new behaviors between sessions. Alex also tries to do as much journaling and reflecting as time permits between sessions.
Who do you think will make the most progress? Who do you think will create positive change faster?
Truthfully, it is impossible to tell who will make the most progress and on what timetable. There are infinite variables, even in the cases of Sam and Alex, who have so many similarities right down to having the same therapist. Despite the similarities, they are still two unique human beings who could experience the exact same event very differently. It’s possible that Alex is getting started with gusto, but might begin to feel overwhelmed and terminate therapy prematurely. Sam might warm up a bit more slowly, but might ultimately stick with it and create tremendous positive change. The complexity of human nature and the uniqueness of every human being cannot be oversimplified, but it is certainly reasonable to think that someone in therapy who is attending sessions and working hard, both inside and outside of the therapy room, might get better results, faster than someone who is less invested and less committed. So, once you’ve taken the bold step of beginning therapy, the question becomes: How can you make the most of it?
First, make therapy a priority. When you have a conflict, try to work with your therapist to reschedule as opposed to canceling whenever possible. There will be times when rescheduling is impossible and the session just has to wait until the following week. If this happens, try to carve out some time, even if it is just a few minutes, to journal and/or reflect on what might have been discussed if you had a session that week. Perhaps you could do some reading on some of the issues you are dealing with in therapy. If you are further along in the process and have moved into a more action-oriented phase of therapy, consider trying on a new behavior or taking a risk during an off week. In other words, if you have to miss a session, try to do something on your own to further the process.
Second, talk to your therapist. Therapists are not psychics! While therapists are skilled at reading people, deciphering body language, and making meaning of the unsaid, they cannot read your mind. If you are feeling like things are moving along too quickly and you are overwhelmed, talk to your therapist about this. If your therapist knows this is happening, he or she might work with you to develop coping strategies that will help you to manage the emotions that come up in therapy. You might also find that at some point in therapy, you become angry at your therapist. Your therapist might say or do something, or not say or do something, that hurts or disappoints you. If this happens, talk to your therapist about this. These kinds of conversations are difficult to have with anyone, but having one with your therapist can be healing and instructive. Not only will you likely resolve the issue with your therapist, but you will develop a model for how to have these kinds of conversations with others in your life. It’s a safe space to practice handling conflict in a healthy way.
The therapy room is a great place to start taking these risks and trying new things, but for real change, you have to take this outside the therapy room.
Third, take therapy with you throughout the week. People often come to therapy because they are very unhappy with some aspect of their lives and they want things to be different. If you want to see changes in your life, you have to take risks and try new things. The therapy room is a great place to start taking these risks and trying new things, but for real change, you have to take this outside the therapy room. If you are having a difficult time making this transition, you might want to consider joining a therapy group. Groups can provide another safe, therapeutic environment for taking risks and trying out new behaviors. They can be a great intermediate step between practicing change in individual therapy and implementing change in your life.
Fourth, read, journal, and/or reflect between sessions. A therapy hour is a very different kind of hour. It can be packed with more thoughts and feelings than you might experience in a full day. You might find that you leave your sessions feeling like there is so much more to say and process (this may be especially true when you begin therapy or when you begin discussing a new issue with your therapist). Rather than trying to push it all aside and come back to it next week, consider digging into it. Read books, articles, and blogs addressing the issues you are working on. Journal and reflect on what you are thinking and feeling. This will keep the momentum of exploration and change moving forward.
Finally, take care of yourself physically. Getting a full night’s sleep, exercising, and healthy eating will give your body the resources it needs to take you down the path to growth and change.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.