Getting the most from therapy

We often think of our success or failure in reaching our therapeutic goals as dependent on the therapist’s work, or our own ability to use the counseling effectively. While these situations can occur, most of the time our lack of progress is related to communication. Here are some ways to increase the effectiveness of your therapy.

Choosing a therapist who is skillful in listening, understanding and helpful in communicating is essential to making progress on personal challenges and relational issues. Also, ‘chemistry’ is important in establishing a secure and safe feeling when dealing with sensitive and vulnerable topics. I encourage new clients to tune in to their feelings about my style, the office personnel and surroundings, and whether they feel OK here or might feel more at ease with a different professional or setting. Some folk like my big ‘tree house’ room and some prefer a more cosy and intimate setting. Some feel supported by my active feedback style, and some prefer a quieter and more passive approach. In many cases talking about the ‘chemistry’ between us can actually make the therapy more effective.

I often ask my clients if their therapy is working for them, and if not, why not. Have they reached a growth plateau and need time to integrate their new insights? Do they need a change of direction in our work together?

Be honest with your therapist about your thoughts and feelings. While we psychologists are usually perceptive, we are not mind readers. The more open you are with your thoughts the better the therapist can understand you and respond to who you really are. This is usually a challenge as you are getting to know someone.

In addition to honestly expressing your thoughts, it is important to be open in the therapy session with what and how you are feeling, both at the moment and in your daily life. Even if you are unclear about just what you are feeling, sharing physical symptoms can help the therapist understand what you are experiencing and can help you identify and clarify your emotions. Ask yourself, “Do I tighten up when talking about certain things? Are certain areas hard for me to put into words? Do I feel anger when the psychologist says some things or acts in certain ways? Does she or he remind me of an emotional figure from my past?”

Be clear when you disagree with your therapist. This will become easier over time as you build a trusting and comfortable relationship. Asserting your opinion is a sign of self confidence and strength. As I jokingly say, “Therapists are mostly human.” – and do make mistakes. Of course, if you find you always disagree with the therapist, you probably are working with the wrong professional or you may just enjoy being oppositional – a good issue to work on.

Finally, be clear that you are here for your growth and life satisfaction, not to please the therapist. If you need to do your work with someone else, or if you have achieved your personal goals, it is time to leave. A healthy and open farewell can start you on your using life as your best therapy. You can come back later for a ‘retread’ when the time is right.