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Friday, December 30, 2011

Biggest Bang For Your Buck

How to Get The Most Out of Your Therapy Session

 The post I wrote about therapists, called The Imperfect Therapist, has received a lot of attention and continues to attract a lot of readers.   That post discusses what you should expect from a therapist.  However, there are two sides to the story.  How beneficial your therapy is depends, not only on how effective your therapist is but, also, on what you bring to the table.
If you've never been through a course of therapy, it's hard to know how to make the most of it.
How to best use therapy is actually something to be learned.  It is different from  going to other professionals such as a medical doctor or accountant, or tax preparer, or dentist or financial adviser or lawyer since these people usually do something specific to or for you.  For example, a dentist does a procedure to your teeth (oooo, we don't really want to think about that too much, do we!), a lawyer drafts a will, a doctor writes a prescription, and so forth.  So, to these professionals, you simply present your problem and they do something about it. 

The difference in working with a therapist is that it is a collaborative effort.  So the best therapist in the world can't  be very successful with you if you go to them with all your defenses up:  They can't help you move in the most productive direction for you if you lie;  if you are hiding your feelings and restricting what you share, it will be hard for the therapist to make a connection with you.  Your therapist will be trying to begin and build, a trusting, reciprocal, safe, creative relationship with you.

 ~Most therapy effectiveness studies show that the quality of the relationship with the therapist is the most significant determinant of the outcome of the therapy.~
Therefore, the first step is to carefully select your therapist.  Personal referrals are good if you are lucky enough to know someone who has a therapist they like and think would be good for you.  Otherwise, beyond the basic credentials, you want to look for someone experienced, who seems competent to you, and with whom you can feel comfortable.  I don't mean that therapy is always going to be a cake walk, just that you should feel faith in doing your personal work with this particular person.

  • Think about yourself before your session.  You may have a lot of things on your mind, but, try to feel what is foremost.  What has the most charge for you?  Bring that to your session.
  •  Leave your cell phone in the car.  It is a distraction, even on vibe.  Your therapist isn't answering the phone during your session (I hope!), nor interrupting her attention on you to glance at incoming cell calls.  Take the therapy hour as time for yourself; leave your other obligations aside for the session and devote it, uninterrupted, to yourself.              
  • Try to make it to every appointment if at all possible.  There is a psychological rhythm that gets established if you attend therapy regularly.
  • Stay focused in the session.  It doesn't mean that free association shouldn't happen---sometimes insights come up---and it is an off-shoot of your original focus.  That's all right.  In fact, that's good.  Sometimes great leaps of learning take place there.  But what isn't good is if you just go off on tangent after tangent and end up only having poured out your mind contents without achieving any in-depth understanding on any of it.  That can  be frustrating if it happens a lot.
  • Allow yourself to truly consider what suggestions your therapist might offer.  Sometimes the pent up emotionality of a topic will make it difficult for the patient to listen.  If you can't really consider it in the session, try still to take  in what your therapist says and consider it later. 
  •  Have both your feelings and your thinking in gear during your session.
  • Be forthcoming.  Be flowing rather than self-inhibiting.   The more you offer up, the more your therapist and you have to engage with and to consider.  Don't be a tightwad!  Be generous with your inner self and personal information in therapy.
  • Think about what transpired in your session afterwords.  If it is at all possible, take some time right after your visit to digest what has occurred.  It's better not to just put it away and go running off to the next task in your day.  Definitely don't spew it all out to a friend or spouse or relative.  Even if you feel a lot about some of it---excited, stirred up, puzzled, or anything else, it's better to stay with that feeling and see what evolves.  If you immediately share it with someone else, it dilutes the therapeutic effect.
 If you stay in the process, you may continue to move along in your personal growth or toward the resolution of a problem, during the time between sessions; you may have realizations that result from what occurred in the session.  This is ideal as you hope one day, to be able to grow and change on your own.  By the way, therapy does ultimately help you to become more independent and differentiated.  It can take time, and you may feel dependent on your therapist for awhile, but, eventually you will begin to discover self clarification and firmer boundaries,  more flexibility, increased consciousness, and an improved ability to make good decisions for yourself.
Therapy is not only for problem-solving; it can also serve to help you grow and mature.  It even has, sometimes, an effect of improving physical health.                                                                  
Does therapy sound effortful?  Well, yes, it is.  To get the most out of it, you have to put something into it.  But, on the other hand, in an on-going therapy relationship, there is always room for just using a session here and there, for some nurturing and understanding.  If you have been sincere and genuinely sharing with your therapist, the therapist will be able to offer you attentive listening and real compassion.  Now there's a rare and treasured life experience.

Please share your reactions and comments.


  1. Paula... a good and insightful post that offers some real down to earth strategies and tools for maximizing the benefits of therapy. Sage advice, and worth sharing. this message can certainly help people get a better understanding of what it really means to be "in" therapy... We do have to be "in it" to reap the benefits.

  2. Very true but hard to implement when there are a lot of trust issues involved. Btw I did once have a therapist who used to answer their phone during sessions....was very apologetic about it every time it happened but made me feel very unimportant.

  3. Dear just me, I noticed when you became a follower-I welcome you and, in response to your comment, for some people, the trust takes some time to develop-nothing wrong with that. Find a good person and stick with it. The therapist answering the phone during your sessions would not support your efforts to build trust, in my opinion. I hope you r able to fins someone more able to be attentive.
    Loren, I like your characterization of being "in it" to reap full benefit. It's true, we do have to drop the cool facade when in our therapy session!