How to Get the Most Out of Your Therapy

Laughing young person with shoulder-length natural hair stands against concrete wallNow that you’re seeing a therapist, how do you get the most out of the time and money you are investing? The simple answer is to show up, challenge yourself, and work with your therapist to achieve your goals. But that isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. There are ways in which people who seek psychotherapy either help or hinder their growth.

Therapy is a co-created relationship, led by the person in therapy, for the purpose of helping that person achieve their goals. As such, the therapist may act as a guide or expert at times, but the initiative for seeking help and wanting to work on certain aspects of growth must come organically from the person in therapy.

Here are five reminders for people in therapy to further the process:

1. Be Authentic

While it’s helpful to know what you want to discuss in a session and to do any homework assigned by your therapist in previous sessions, it is not helpful to the therapeutic process to script what you are going to say to your therapist. Your therapist is not expecting you to be funny, witty, or entertaining. Therapy is a relationship built on authenticity in the moment, and scripting a story beforehand is no different than penning a diary or blog. While these methods can be helpful in their own right, it is not particularly helpful in therapy, as prewritten interactions negate the growth and healing that can occur as a result of a spontaneous and genuine therapeutic relationship.

2. Teach Your Therapist About You

Identity is important because it gives us a sense of belonging to a group or exclusion from a group as well as the privileges and trials that go along with that identity. Therapists are highly trained and knowledgeable experts in helping and healing. This doesn’t mean your therapist knows everything about every identity out there or which identities you find relevant for yourself. While some identities are easily visible to the eye, others may be hidden. And you may or may not identify strongly with all identities that apply to you.

People go to therapy for help, but that doesn’t mean they need to be fixed.

Additionally, you and your therapist may be of different races, sexes, genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, socioeconomic classes, disability statuses, or other identities, and your therapist may need to be informed and educated on what your identities mean to you. Even if you and your therapist share some common identities, the ways in which they manifest or are interpreted can be unique, and discussing similarities and differences can help clarify assumptions that may have been made by either party.

3. Remember: You Are Okay as You Are

People go to therapy for help, but that doesn’t mean they need to be fixed. There is a distinction. You are inherently okay as you are, and you are seeking to grow and change. But you don’t have to worry about your therapist judging your thoughts, emotions, actions, or past, and you don’t have to hide the less acceptable or seemingly more shameful aspects of yourself in order to have your therapist like you. This isn’t helpful to the therapeutic process, as this prevents the honesty necessary to grow within therapy.

4. Discuss Your Beliefs

Whether you follow a religion, consider yourself an atheist, or have your own set of spiritual views, don’t be afraid to discuss your beliefs in therapy (even if you don’t have any or are unsure what they may be). These deeply personal principles inform a sense of meaning, purpose, or identity and can be important to your therapeutic journey.

Further, many people feel hurt or betrayed by religion, God, or religious institutions. If this is the case, it may be tempting to avoid such topics altogether, viewing them as irrelevant, which they may be. But this may also be an opportunity to find growth or healing in an unexpected, but possibly important, dimension of life.

5. Disagree? Speak Up

If something about your therapy doesn’t feel right to you, discuss it with your therapist. Don’t be afraid to discuss perceived misunderstandings or to express concerns about the direction of your sessions. It’s normal to occasionally feel angry, hurt, or frustrated with your therapist or your progress in therapy, and such thoughts and feelings should be discussed with your therapist.

In turn, your therapist should be open to having such conversations without judgment or defensiveness. These discussions can lead to tremendous growth in the therapeutic relationship and clarity about the goals of therapy. As the person in therapy, this is your journey. It is your right to speak up, be understood, and be responded to appropriately.

While not easy, the most effective therapy happens when you are able to fully be yourself and your therapist sees, respects, and values your authenticity. I encourage you to notice when you are holding yourself back in therapy, and to be curious about what may be occurring when you do.

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Tai Pimputkar, MSW, LCSW, Topic Expert Contributor

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
  • Maret

    August 29th, 2016 at 8:42 AM

    You are only going to get as much out of it as you put into the process.

  • Tai Pimputkar, LCSW

    August 29th, 2016 at 11:45 AM

    Exactly! Well said.

  • Carmen

    August 29th, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    You can’t go into therapy thinking that there are certain things that you are not going to disclose. If you are not fully willing to bare it all then what good is therapy ever going to do you? You have to be willing to be a little raw and expose yourself probably more than you would like, but no one is ever going to be able to fully help you if you are not willing to fully share and be honest.

  • Tai Pimputkar, LCSW

    August 29th, 2016 at 12:54 PM

    That’s a really good point, Carmen. And very well said. Being honest and genuine is the key to the therapeutic process, and will ultimately allow you to attain your most personal goals in therapy. If you aren’t open about who you are, how can a therapist help you live the life you’re hoping for?

  • Penelope

    August 29th, 2016 at 3:06 PM

    I think that I would have a very difficult time speaking up if I didn’t believe in some,thing that my therapist said because to me that is such a position of power that I would feel weird saying anything.

    I don’t think that there are those people who would use that against you but then again you never really know do you?

  • Tai

    August 29th, 2016 at 5:06 PM

    You make a very good point, Penelope. Having concerns about contradicting a therapist, particularly given the power differential you mention, is a valid point. I have two responses to this:
    1) Yes, it may be hard to consider, and it may be breaking a pattern for people who tend to avoid confrontation. But isn’t the therapeutic relationship the best place to try out new communication styles, and maybe even address the fact that they feel clumsy or uncomfortable? This could be an opportunity for relational growth. And just see how it is received.
    2) Which leads me to my second point: If you find that your own opinions or concerns are not welcome and accepted as constructive, is that really the best therapeutic relationship for you? Would you rather try voicing concerns and find out that you may want a different therapist, or stay in a therapeutic relationship where you couldn’t fully be yourself?

  • laura T

    August 29th, 2016 at 6:20 PM

    My therapist started out by asking me what I wanted to come from the two of us meeting together and that is what we started working on. I think that along the way we covered MANY other things but I felt like I had a voice in where we were going just by her simply asking what I wanted to get out of the experience.

  • Tai Pimputkar, LCSW

    August 29th, 2016 at 8:24 PM

    That’s a wonderful example of goal-setting while beginning therapy. It sounds very clear, and I’m glad you felt you had a voice. Thank you for the reminder about the importance of explicit goal-setting. I really appreciate it!

  • Riley

    August 30th, 2016 at 10:30 AM

    For me over the years there have been times when I have been very dedicated to the process and then there were other times when I was a little more lazy about it all. In hindsight I can see that you definitely figure out a lot more about what you are feeling and about yourself in general when you are willing to take some time after each session and really process what it was that the two of you covered together. This is not supposed to be about making changes for the hour or so you are with this person each week; but it should be about helping you learn from the entire therapy process and learning as a person how to implement those things into your every day life.

  • Tai Pimputkar, LCSW

    September 6th, 2016 at 3:32 PM

    Well said, Riley. Therapy is a personal commitment to change, and being willing to work toward one’s goals.

  • Garrison

    August 30th, 2016 at 2:17 PM

    I am sure that there are a lot of people who think that they have a disagreement about something in therapy and that this has to be the end of that.
    But what they are missing is that it is ok to disagree on small things and maybe even large things as long as you are willing to work things out like an adult.
    There is a lot that you can do to meet in the middle, agree to disagree, and that does not necessarily have to terminate the therapeutic relationship.

  • Tai Pimputkar, LCSW

    September 6th, 2016 at 3:35 PM

    Absolutely! It’s perfectly fine to disagree, but I like what you said about resolving disagreements like an adult. The therapeutic relationship is the perfect opportunity to experience a disagreement, and learn that this doesn’t have to mean an end to the relationship. For people who haven’t experienced this before, this lesson can be a powerful one, and one that can be helpful when it carries over to their personal relationships.

  • Evan

    August 31st, 2016 at 9:34 AM

    Thank you for this article!

  • Tai Pimputkar, LCSW

    September 6th, 2016 at 3:35 PM

    Thank you :)

  • conner

    August 31st, 2016 at 11:26 AM

    I remember my first visit, I was a little shy to share because I didn’t really think that he wanted to know about ME, just my problems.

  • Tai Pimputkar, LCSW

    September 6th, 2016 at 3:36 PM

    It’s always good to allow yourself to feel out a new therapist. Every person and every relationship is different, and it takes time for trust to build, even in therapy.

  • JayVon

    September 3rd, 2016 at 9:13 AM

    It always helps when you are working with a person that you infinitely like and trust.
    When in therapy you are putting a lot of yourself out there and you need this to be with someone who you feel has your very best interest at heart.
    It will never be worth it to share all of this history and all of this fear with someone who you don’t feel has your back.

  • Tai Pimputkar, LCSW

    September 6th, 2016 at 3:38 PM

    Absolutely! Very well said. One of the most important aspects of therapy is finding the right “fit” for you. If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist consider whether it’s worth working through together, or whether it’s time to find one who feels more right for you.

  • Isaac

    September 6th, 2016 at 2:08 PM

    I have a hard time letting down my guard, little bit protective of what I want and don’t want to feel so this would be a difficult thing for me to do I think

  • Tai Pimputkar, LCSW

    September 6th, 2016 at 3:41 PM

    That is completely understandable, Issac, and thank you for your honest comment. You certainly want to honor your intuition and your protective nature. While therapy is about exploring now ways of relating with others, it is important that it is done in a way that feels safe to you, emotionally. If this means testing things out slowly, and over time, then that’s important. It will be good for you to consider trying the things described above, maybe in small ways that feel ok. And it will also be good to find a therapist who doesn’t push you beyond what feels comfortable to you. Wonderful comment. Thank you, again, for sharing.

  • Elaine

    April 4th, 2019 at 2:13 PM

    Please send me your newsletter
    Many thanks

  • The Team

    April 4th, 2019 at 2:22 PM

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