How To Get More Out Of Therapy

How To Get More Out Of Therapy

[Written By: Landrie Ethredge]

Therapy is a courageous endeavor and takes a lot of time, commitment, energy, and money! Get the most out of therapy by following these suggestions. 

In the Therapy Room: 

1) Don’t keep things to yourself. For your therapist to be helpful, she needs to know the real you. Be authentic and open. Therapy is truly the place where you can talk about anything and everything. Take advantage of that! Your therapist is not there to judge, but to get curious and interested with you, about you.  

2) Show your emotions. Change requires something called “state-based learning”, which means for change to happen, you need to feel and be connected to your emotions. Feeling anxious or sad? Don’t be afraid to let those emotions show. Feeling nervous about crying in front of your therapist? Tell her! Many people feel the same way and exploring that fear can lead to good insight. 

3) Don’t expect your therapist to tell you what to do. The therapy relationship is different from a friendship or a coaching dynamic. Therapy is not about giving advice, but about helping you understand yourself and your needs on a deeper level. A skilled therapist will be able to assist you in you making the best decisions for yourself. 

4) Have a topic ready. Spend some time before your session to identify a topic to explore. I recommend coming prepared with one “big” topic, and 3 “small” topics to fill in as time allows. You should be doing most of the talking in the session. If you struggle to do this, tell your therapist. They can help you dig a little deeper so you know what material to bring in. 

5) Don’t focus on symptoms. Symptoms are important to talk about, but the real work is what is underneath. Learn to focus less on the symptom and more on getting nonjudgmentally curious about why that symptom is showing up in the first place. Often, putting pressure on yourself to “just stop worrying” (or whatever the symptom is), just creates more worry and stress and doesn’t lead to lasting change. 

Outside the Therapy Room:

1) Don’t rush back into your day. Rushing back into a busy day can cut short the work you started in the therapy room. Allow yourself 30min- 1 hour of downtime to ease back into your day. I recommend that my clients go to a park or coffee shop to walk or journal. This allows your brain to absorb and process the emotions and topics of the session. 

2) Practice Mindfulness. One of the most important first steps to change is increasing your internal awareness. We can’t do this if we are not being mindful and present to what is happening in us and around us. I recommend “3 Minute Breathing Space”, a practice that takes 3 min, 3 times a day. You simply take a few deep and slow breaths, check-in with your physical sensations, and name the emotions that are present. 

3) Journal Daily. This is one of the most simple and powerful daily habits, and is another way of increasing mindfulness. Research shows journaling daily for 10 min can reduce depression, anxiety, and stress. I recommend simply starting with the statement, “Today I feel…”, and continuing from there. I also recommend ending with a list of three things that you are grateful for. Our brains remember negative and positive things at a 1:5 ration, meaning it takes 5 positives to equal the impact of 1 negative. We must consciously name and ponder the positive for them to impact our brain in a real way. 

4) Support your physical body. I cannot stress this enough! All the therapy in the world will not create change if we sabotage it with unhealthy choices. Our bodies and minds REQUIRE sleep, water, nutrient dense food, and daily exercise. Alcohol and caffeine are two of the biggest culprits for sabotaging work around depression, anxiety, and stress. We cannot have a healthy mind if our bodies are deprived of their basic fundamental needs.

5) Keep the conversation going. Social support is so crucial to mental health. Identify and utilize the safe relationships you have in order to keep the conversation going outside of your therapy sessions. We process information differently when we are sharing our internal worlds with others in a safe relationship. Our brains need that secure attachment with others to create healing and to support our nervous systems. If you do not have good social support, talk to your therapist about ways to begin building one.