Going to therapy is just the first step. Granted, it’s a big one, but if you don’t work on things between sessions you will reap fewer benefits.
Here are a few tips to help you maximize your counseling experience:
1. Tell the truth. It’s amazing how many people lie to their therapist. Why? Some want approval, some think fooling the therapist is a game, some think if they can fool the therapist they must be pretty smart (of course, paying someone to lie to them doesn’t make you Mensa material), some aren’t ready to tell the truth to themselves, some want to “test” the therapist, some feel too ashamed, and last but not least, some people just aren’t ready to face certain things. Typically, your therapist assumes you are telling the truth. If you aren’t, she will welcome it when you decide to share more honestly.
2. Ask for what you want. This is a tough one, especially if you have not been to a therapist before, but the therapist works for you, so make sure you are getting the help that best suits your desires right now. Be clear. Question anything you don’t understand.
3. Make sure the therapist is on the same page as you are, that she knows your desires and understands where you’re coming from.
4. If your therapist doesn’t offer it, ask for homework. Seeing someone once a week is generally not enough to catalyze change unless you work on things between sessions. There are all types of homework: role-playing, visualization, behavioral changes, exercise, meditation, breath work, journaling, reading, diet, trying new things, social activities, cognitive restructuring, etc. Of course, once you have asked for homework, your job is to follow-through. There’s nothing more empowering than putting the pedal to the metal, and showing yourself you are capable of change and growth.
5. Listen. I know your therapist’s job is to hear you, but you might benefit from listening, too. An active-directive therapist will freely tell you what he thinks, and encourage your personal evolution. I know how easy it is to want to unload during a session, especially in the beginning, but listening can take you in new directions.
6. Assume the best. Assume your therapist genuinely cares about you. If you don’t believe she does find someone else.
7. Typically, you are not feeling your strongest when you first meet with a therapist, so remembering that you actually pay this person can help you feel empowered. Feel free to disagree, to elucidate him if necessary (and, sometimes, it will be necessary because you can’t count on ESP), and to spell out exactly what you want. Is it support? Insight? Understanding? Tools for living? Dream analysis? Assertiveness training? Coping skills? Career counseling? Healing the inner child? Trauma recovery? Whatever it is, you have the right to ask for it.
8. Remember: most things in life can be plotted on a bell curve, or standard deviation. Essentially, this says that in any given population, the likelihood of getting someone average is 68%. The chance of getting someone worse than average is 16%, as is the chance of getting someone better than average. Generally speaking, we want a better than average therapist. But there is only a 16% chance of that happening. So, if you see someone and you’re not happy with them, see someone else. Statistically, you only have a 16% chance of getting someone really great. But, it’s really worth persevering. You would do it for a good car mechanic, why not for a therapist?
9. We live in an insurance age. Companies will only pay for those diagnoses they deem serious. Some won’t pay for marital counseling, grief work, or life circumstance issues. This means that your situation may need to be pathologized so your insurance company will pay their portion of your therapy. Not only is that unfortunate, but it will be on your medical record. The patholozation of normal issues is a pet peeve of mine (for more on this topic go to goodtherapy.org). Most everyone goes through the full complement of mental states in the course of life. To call any one of them sick, or pathological, is to make the normal abnormal. You may want to discuss the diagnostic code your therapist is using on your insurance claim before you file it.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang