This is an article for people who are either new to psychotherapy or are in therapy but unsure if they are currently getting what they need out of it.
Psychotherapy can be a great tool for healing and support but it does have limitations. Additionally, a lot of clarifying work about what the client needs and whether the therapist is able to support them in this is frequently not done. Ideally, the therapist will help you do some of this work, but it is also helpful if you can do some of it yourself.
Therapy is a useful resource for the following:
- Receiving help exploring and understanding themes and events in your life.
For example: If you have difficulty with communication with a person in your life, therapy can help you understand your triggers, insecurities and boundaries better so you can take care of yourself the way you need.
2. Additional support and perspective in your life.
Having a dedicated time each week for a person to pay close attention to you and offer feedback is valuable. Unfortunetly, many of us don’t receive this in daily life even in close friendships or with family. Therapy also offers a place to speak freely about topics you might not bring up otherwise. Over time, the therapist gets to know you deeply and the history of what you’ve been through. This can be a meaningful and healing experience.
How to get the most out of therapy
- Consider the time frame you’d like to be in therapy for.
For example, someone who is wanting to take a year or two to explore ongoing anxiety or grief or get to know themselves better is going to have a much different sort of therapy than someone who might want to spend six months developing coping strategies for how they relate to family members. If you have a sense about how long you want to be in therapy and how deep you want the work to be and can communicate this to your therapist, you will have a much better chance of success.
2. Consider what is most important for you to get out of the therapy.
Take 10 minutes right now and write down what you want for yourself from the therapy and what kind of relationship you want with your therapist.
Examples that might come up on a list:
- support navigating through a difficult issue ( a challenge with a child or partner, deep depression, social anxiety, substance use issues)
- understanding from the therapist about what its like to be in your body or have your experiences
- security that the therapist has experience working with similar issues and has an idea how to help you
- to feel better
- the therapist can be a person you trust
- safe space where you won’t be judged
3. Share this list with your therapist or a potential therapist and talk about it.
This is the tricky part! Traditionally, the therapist is in a role of authority and the client is more vulnerable because they are the one’s sharing. This can make asserting your wants and needs or even vocalizing them difficult. You might also expect the therapist to ask all of the questions or project that they will know things about you without you saying them. These are totally normal thoughts but it’s a lot better if you can bring what you want and don’t want up directly so you have the best chance of getting what you need.
How to support yourself in discussing this list with a therapist:
- Know that you are the client and paying for the therapy. You have every right to assess a therapist you are interviewing or a therapist you have been working with for a while. Not being in a role of authority frequently makes people feel uncomfortable passing judgement or noticing personal quirks of the person they are working with. You will do yourself a huge favor by allowing yourself to honestly assess the person you’re working with.
- Share what you feel comfortable with on your list with the therapist and have a back and forth conversation. Do you feel satisfied by the responses you’ve received? If not, do you feel comfortable asking for more explanation or sharing that you don’t feel fully understood?
- If there are items on your list that are difficult to vocalize with the therapist you can ask for help. You can either tell the therapist that there are some things that are important for you but you’re nervous talking about them, or you can asking other people in your life for support bringing up something difficult to your therapist.
If you’re able to do these things even just a little bit, great job! You’re doing an awesome job supporting yourself and helping yourself get what you need. It can be very difficult to assert what you want or aren’t totally happy with in therapy. A competent therapist will welcome this sort of conversation and likely be happy you’ve brought things up. You will both understand each other better at the end of this conversation and likely have better results going forward.