Deciding to go to therapy is a major step in overcoming issues like anxiety or depression, feeling more confident, healing old wounds, or moving forward in life in a healthier way. Showing up to your weekly sessions is a great place to start. But by planning ahead, and following a few tips, you can get even more out of your therapy session.
The main goal is that you feel comfortable, so taking steps to ensure that's the case is key. Every therapist is different, and they all have different methods, so don't stop until you find one that's a good fit for you. Only then can you start to open up, focus on your goals, and really benefit from your sessions.
"It's great if you have something pressing that you want to talk about. However, it's not necessary in order to have a productive session," therapist Julie Williamson, LPC, NCC, RPT tells Bustle. "What's important is keeping an open mind and being present. Paying attention to what is going on inside of you in the [...] moment in the therapy office can give you a plethora of information to explore and discuss with your therapist that may yield insights you wouldn't have explored otherwise." Here are a few ways to feel centered and focused, so you can make the most of your therapy — and actually see some results, according to experts.
1. Let Go Of Fear Or Judgment
If you think opening up to a therapist is intimidating, you're definitely not alone. Many people clam up on their way into the office, and feel afraid to open up as a result. But in order to get the most out of your session, it really does help to relax.
"Enter the therapy relationship with an understanding that your therapist is not going to judge you," therapist Ritu Reimer, MA, LPC, tells Bustle. "Unconditional positive regard is the foundation to any therapist's training and approach. Regardless of the style (modality) they practice, they will not be judging you. This is a space in which you can be your raw self." You can literally talk about anything.
2. Bring A Few Notes
Throughout the week, keep a running list of notes and thoughts — worries you had, fears that kept you up at night, and so on. And bring these to therapy.
"It’s easy to forget when things bother you," therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, tells Bustle. "Jot things down you want to remember for your next session." That way, when your therapist asks how your week was, it'll be easier to let them know.
3. Don't Pretend To Be OK
While it can be tough, at first, to truly open up to your therapist, do make a point of putting it all out there. Talk about dark things, scary things, embarrassing things — whatever happens to be on your mind. Just be honest, and fight against any desire to shrug and say you're fine.
"The more you present yourself as 'everything is OK' the less you are going to get out of treatment," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "Once you feel comfortable with your therapist, know that you have a safe space to be you, to feel [like] you, to not fake it for anyone or anything."
4. Ask Questions
If your therapist is talking about something you don't understand, or you feel unclear about a certain suggestion, speak up and ask questions. "Communication is the foundation of your treatment," Dr. Klapow says. "If you are confused, frustrated, or lost let your therapist know."
5. Take A Risk
If something's on your mind, but you're afraid to talk about it, that may be the very thing worth talking about. "Take a risk," Tom Bruett, MS, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist, tells Bustle. "If there’s a question you’re dying to know or something that’s on your mind that feels scary to bring up, talk about it. As therapists, we can’t read our patients' minds, but we aim to create a safe place to talk about challenging topics."
6. Check In With Yourself
Throughout the session, you might want to check, "that you are feeling the therapist truly 'gets' what you are sharing with [them], and that they are demonstrating compassion for all you are going through," psychologist Dr. Sidney Cohen, PhD, tells Bustle. "This can significantly increase your confidence about this being the right therapist for you, and optimism about your getting the most benefit you can from therapy."
And, if you're feeling stressed out, upset, or confused, you can let them know.
7. Focus On Your Goals
One of the reasons therapy is so cathartic is that it provides time to vent about your life and the people in it. But try not to let that become the main event.
"Focusing on others can provide temporary relief, however, focusing on yourself empowers you to use the tools and resources you already have and are learning in therapy to make the changes necessary for improving your life," Yelena Gidenko, PhD, a licensed professional counselor, tells Bustle.
Blow off that steam. Then try to focus on your goals. Do you want to learn how to be more assertive? How to better handle stress? Establish with your therapist a few clear goals, and work on them together.
8. Write Down Key Points
You should consider jotting down thoughts during the week, and bringing them to therapy. But it can also be helpful to take notes during the session —especially if something really hit home.
"If you take the time to make note of these points you can carry this with you when you walk out out the door and utilize them in your day-to-day life outside of the walls of your therapist's office," therapist Mandi Penney, LPC, NCC, tells Bustle.
It's also nice to see a list of the things you talked about, since a lot of information is being thrown around. After your session, sit down and review it all, so it can really sink in.
9. Allow The Therapist To Guide You
While you should focus on your goals, and talk about things that are important to you, allow the therapist to guide you towards new areas of discussion — even if it feels totally off topic.
"Accept that sometimes a therapist might pick up on something important in what you say and wish to focus on that rather than have you continue with items on your list," Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW, tells Bustle. "She should ask your permission to do so. Refocusing you may be because she sees something that needs to be discussed because it will be helpful to you." So try to go with the flow.
10. Don't Try To "Fix" Everything At The End
It can be tempting to try to tie up your therapy session with a neat little bow. But it's not necessary to do so.
"Get used to the idea that this is a process and problems will be managed over time," Dr. Klapow says. "You may walk out with a better understanding one week and confusion the next."
And that's OK. You can pick up the conversation again next week.
11. Do The Homework
Does your therapist want you to journal throughout the week? Or do a page in a workbook? Or test out some of their advice in real life? If so, make an effort to actually follow through.
"Do any and all 'homeworks' the therapist prescribes for you," Dr. Cohen says. "[This] allows for more continuity of treatment between sessions," keeps you thinking, and puts into practice what you learned in therapy.
You don't need to put a ton of pressure on yourself to make your therapy "work" in a short amount of time, but you can take a few steps to make the most of the time you have with your therapist. By being comfortable, asking questions, opening up, and speaking your mind, you'll already be doing everything you need to do.