Helpful Tips to Make Therapy the Most Effective for You

friends-talking-couch-0610138Many who have never done therapy before can easily have preconceived notions on what it is, who it’s for, and what it means to go see a therapist. If you were considering finding a therapist because of a certain painful situation going on in your life, or wanting an outside perspective on what you are going through, that’s great. Those are certainly situations where you would want to find a good therapist. But it’s natural to still have questions.

How do you start to look for one? What can you expect? How can you benefit the most from it? There are so many great resources for finding therapists, but how do you know which therapist is right for you? How do you know you will get the most effective treatment with them? Here are a few tips to help you if you are considering when finding a therapist for yourself. These are things to consider before you send that email, or pick up that phone.

What Do You Want to Achieve in Therapy? Are you going through a painful breakup and want sound help from an expert who’s helped other clients dealing with the same issues as you? Do you want to get tools to help you move past the emotional pain? Are you trying to figure out how to repair the relationship? Are you struggling from insomnia and want help to make the symptoms go away? What are your reasons for going to a therapist, and what kind of benefits do you want to see from that? These are questions you need to ask yourself before you decide who can best help you achieve those things.

Begin your search. Are you dealing with long-term depression? Codependency? Anxiety? Many therapists have specialties and have worked with many clients who have been in your situation. They are equipped and experienced to help you with your particular journey. You’ve narrowed down your search by identifying what you really need. I’ve had inquiries from those who are under stress and don’t really know how they want to benefit from their therapy work. I’ve asked them specific questions to help them identify the answers, but also to determine if it makes sense for us to work together.

Let Go of a Timeline. Even a trained, experienced clinician cannot tell you an exact time line. If finances are the issue for a time constraint, it’s good to tell your therapist up front, so there is a time frame you are working with. A therapist might also offer alternatives that work for you, like group therapy, or a community counseling center. If you do choose to work with them, they should be equipping you with helpful tools to cope better with your situation with the time constraints you know you have.

You may be asked why you are imposing an end date on your therapy. You can cap how often you go to therapy, but that doesn’t mean the issues you wanted to address will feel resolved. Imposing an end date on therapy may result in misplaced expectations and leave you disappointed.

It’s understandable to have financial constraints, even around priorities like our health. But be mindful of any other psychological resistance you have about going to therapy. For example, you could also imposing a time limit in your own mind about how long you want to talk about the issues, especially if they are painful. Nobody likes to feel pain, so it could understandably be affecting why you are putting a time limit on how long therapy will take. A good therapist will inform you of that it’s difficult to put an exact time frame, but will also give you the freedom to terminate when you feel you’ve gotten what you needed out of therapy to help you.

Go with Your Instinct. It’s not always about the amount of education a therapist has — It’s the level of connection you have with them when you talk to them, either in person or by phone, when you are trying to gauge whether it’s the right fit for you. Don’t ignore your gut when you are initially engaging your therapist by phone or in person to decide if you want to work with him or her, even if the therapist was a referral by a doctor or a friend. This is a person you may be revealing some very intimate details about your life. If you’re feeling uncomfortable or uneasy from the beginning, that may be a clue that as you delve into issues more personal, it will hinder your therapy progress because you simply felt uncomfortable with your therapist. It doesn’t mean that the therapist doesn’t do good work, or that something is wrong with you. Sometimes the connection simply wasn’t the right one for you.

Look for a Quality Connection. Generally, you ought to be able to feel your therapist genuinely cares for you and the situation you are in. You can feel the therapist empathize with your pain or your desire to see your circumstances change for the better. Good therapists will give you their undivided attention during sessions. They won’t be distracted with checking their phone if they hear a text message alert. Do they try to understand you? Do you feel safe to reveal information without feeling judged or critcized? Do they accept you?

Ask Questions. As you are discussing the issues with your therapist, he or she should have some ideas of what interventions they will be using to help you reach the goals that you discuss in your first meetings. You may need to revisit your initial goals from time to time to see how you are achieving them through your therapy work with them. Don’t let your therapist stay silent; keep inquiring about the methods they will use to help you progress.

Has Your Therapist Experienced Therapy? It’s surprising how many therapist don’t do their own therapy work before becoming a therapist. It’s like a Toyota dealership owner driving a Honda. To me, this says that those therapists don’t believe in the work they do enough to go through it themselves. Doing their own therapy work can actually make therapists more effective in their work with clients, because they are not operating from blind spots. They are more likely to be aware of any of their own issues and not let those concerns hinder their work with clients. They can perhaps empathize even more with you. If you ask a therapist if he or she has done therapy before and you get a defensive response, that might be a clue for you.

These are just a few tips to help you identify how to make therapy the most effective for you, and also tips on finding a therapist you are comfortable working with. Effective therapy can be a very wonderful blessing that helps you in many areas of your life. I know that it’s been a tremendous blessing in mine.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Gracie Lu, LCSW

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • ruth

    June 10th, 2013 at 9:03 PM

    therapy can help.but only if u r open to it.if u do not open up then even the best therapist out there cant help.a cousin went to therapy because he was pressurized by his family.he was not invested in it.needless to say it didnt work for him.

    that is not to lose hope in therapy.if u r involved and want to find help u definitely will.

  • Bennie

    June 11th, 2013 at 4:15 AM

    That timeline is what always holds me back.

    Therapy, weight losss, whatever, I am always looking for achievement by a certain date and when I don’t reach that milestone that has always been my cue to give up, move on to something else, and geenrally give up on what I was previosuly working on.

    I see that this is no way to get real life improvement. Life doesn’t operate that way, change doesn’t happen at a set point on a timeline. It is a gradual progression, one step forward two steps back even. I think that if I could ever get past that hurdle then I could make some real and lasting improvements in life.

  • Gracie

    June 11th, 2013 at 12:32 PM

    Hello Ruth,

    You make an excellent point! For the sake of length of the article that’s why it was excluded.

    Often people who are looking for help, or are starting to be open to the idea will usually venture onto sites like GoodTherapy.Org as a starting point. People who are not open for help or therapy rarely will take the time to read such information.

    A person can hire a celebrity personal trainer, but if they don’t want to apply what they are learning, workout inconsistently and eat past their daily calorie intake they cannot reasonably blame the trainer, or say that it doesn’t work.

  • Gracie

    June 11th, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    Hi Bennie,

    Knowing what the issue is, is half the battle. The work begins on the why not press past that point? Sometimes people fear what they might find out, what they have to gain and lose. It can come in the form of time constraints. It’s a type of resistance, even to good changes and blessings.

  • paul

    June 11th, 2013 at 3:02 PM

    How is it possible to go into therapy with some sort of goal in mind when you know there are times when you are not even sure what that goal should be? You just might know that there is something troubling you and eating at you and you are just there to look for the answers to that. That still isn’t a definable goal.

  • Gracie

    June 13th, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    Hi Paul,

    You won’t always know what’s troubling you, but you know that something isn’t right; It’s good to have that quesion in mind though because it’s a starting place even before you actually begin therapy.

    Exploring what those troubling things can be is part of what therapy is about. For those who have done therapy before and are returning for similar or other issues, may have some insight so they are able to have some idea where their work will begin.

  • Sandy

    March 22nd, 2016 at 5:05 AM

    I’m confused about therapy. I have been severely depressed for many years. Desperate for help, I started therapy a couple of months ago and I’m already feeling discouraged by it. There are times when I find myself talking and not getting any input whatsoever from the therapist. I often see her yawning and even nodding. She tries very hard to hide it, but of course it is a difficult thing to hide. Our visits are typically around 10am so am I boring her or does she need to go to bed earlier? I’m very discouraged with therapy. This is not the first time I’ve tried therapy. This is actually the third time in 20+ years. Each time has been a disappointment. First time I was being judged. Second time the therapist actually did fall asleep, and now this. I’m beginning to feel like these therapists only do what they do because it’s a good, easy paycheck. I have tried to find a good therapist but that process is grueling if you are like me and feeling desperate.

  • Ivy B

    January 3rd, 2018 at 5:04 PM

    This is some really good information about therapy. My grandmother has been really depressed lately and she has been thinking about going to therapy. It is good to know that she should consider asking the therapist question about good things for her to do to help her get better.

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