Although I'm sure I could add more to this list, here are my top four tips to getting the most out of your time in therapy and reaching your goals successfully. The order is important IMO, especially the first two. I’m sure other therapists and clients could justify moving the order around, and that’s ok, but here’s my list.
1. The desire and willingness to be in therapy
You need to want to be in therapy. If you don’t really want to be there, you simply won’t get much out of it. In fact, there will be a LOT of resistance keeping you from opening up. Even if there’s a small part of you not ready for therapy, that doesn’t mean you won’t make progress, but it might impact how quickly it happens. Being ready and willing makes all the difference.
2. The relationship with your therapist
I wanted to put the therapeutic relationship as number one, and truthfully I think it’s a tie with the first one on the list. Having a good relationship with your therapist is crucial in therapy. If you don’t click with your therapist, or if you feel something is amiss, consider talking to them about your concerns, and/or keep searching until you find one who works for you. I suggest seeing a therapist 3-5 times before making a decision, unless there are blatant red flags.
3. Acknowledging and addressing the hard stuff
If you keep conversations in therapy on a surface level, you’re missing out. Now, this doesn't mean you have to force yourself to jump in to talking about issues before you're ready. Therapists understand and respect that it takes time building a safe connection with them. We also know it can be scary to open up and there may even be shame around what’s going on or happened in your life. If it is scary or uncomfortable, maybe start by having a discussion with your therapist about why it’s so hard to talk about certain issues before diving into them. But eventually, it's important to get to the nitty gritty of why you're there in the first place. If you don’t talk about the hard stuff eventually, you won’t truly find healing.
4. Using skills, completing homework, and following the recommendations given by your therapist
Do. The. Work. Put in the time outside of the therapy room. One hour a week with your therapist, on average, will not yield the results you hope for. You, the client, need to do the work outside the four walls of therapy. This means more than trying something once. This means regularly trying the breathing exercises, writing in your journal, using the skills to help with managing distress, emotions and communication, following up with your psychiatrist or primary doctor, if that’s what your therapist recommends. If you’re not following the recommendations from your therapist, that is totally your choice. But if you are opting out, forgetting, not making time to use skills or do the homework and you're not seeing change, it’s not your therapist who’s at fault. I think it's fair to say that therapists are not magicians, we can’t force change, and we don’t know you better than you know yourself. Seeing a therapists does not automatically equate to change, we are just the catalysts. By doing the work recommended to you and by bringing what you learn into your day-to-day, you are taking charge of your life, choices, health and healing. By doing the work regularly, you will see progress and feel more empowered.