How to Make The Best Out of Therapy

If we attend therapy, how can we help ourselves get the best out of it? Here are some methods:

Listening with an open heart.

Take it in. Take it ALL in! Silencing our thoughts; not thinking about a reply until we’ve (briefly) considered what the therapist has just said.

Thinking about a detailed answer before responding.

For example, if asked, “how long have you felt this way?” it wouldn’t be helpful to reply with a vague answer that beats around the bush, such as, “Well, I’ve been this way for a very long time.” This answer provides a shield, keeping us from opening up to someone. Personally, I feel my chest tightening and my back curling when I’m asked a personal question like this.  But being as specific as possible, like thinking about approximately what age our symptoms started to appear, after which incident or phase, and how frequent our symptoms have been since then. So, a better answer is: “I remember feeling upset very often as a child, probably around 10 years old. I just started distancing myself from friends and family. I remember being bullied by a few kids at school because of my weight.” The professional with whom you’re working can then ask you more questions that will uncover the reason behind your emotions and behaviors.

Recording sessions with permission.

Asking to record an audio version of  sessions on our phone or bringing a notebook. The best counselors/therapists don’t let us leave without session notes that further treatment. We can write them ourselves or ask for a copy of notes and strategies discussed during the appointment.

Suggesting homework if none is given.

This applies to when your therapist/counselor is helping you achieve something, or getting you to do something you used to love doing again. We can ask if they have any suggestions on how to get back into the groove of things. Self-development happens mostly outside of therapy.

Keeping session notes where we can see them.

Single sheets of paper can be hung on the wall of our bedroom, office, a private space, or a closet. We can also keep them in a folder or binder on the desk, or next to bed. The point is for our notes to be easily accessible. We may review them a few times a week, once a day, or whenever we need to.

Maybe it’s not the right fit.

We may explain our issues to a therapist and all they say is something like, “What do you think you can do about that?” or, “You tell me what to do about that.” I’ve even gotten, “So how can I help you?” and that can be frustrating. I mean, we don’t go to therapy to have someone help us think, and we certainly don’t go in knowing exactly how the therapist can help us. But we go to gain someone else’s (positive) perspective on our matters and to gain new ideas on how to deal. So, if we have no idea what we think we can do for ourselves, or how they can help us, we must kindly reply that we don’t know, which is the reason we’re seeking help.

If we don’t feel a connection, or if talk therapy no longer works, then it’s best to seek help from someone who specializes in the exact area we need healing. For example, the help of an eating disorder specialist for disordered eating, an intuitive counselor if we are interested in developing intuition, a pastoral therapist if Christian faith is important to us. Even a life coach! The goal is just to find someone who understands where you’re coming from.

Searching for Meaning and Aiming for Progress

It’s hard to keep my eyes open on the bus every morning. I work the night shift and it’s taxing. I crave sleep and the comfort of my room, sometimes food as well. Today, I got up from my seat on the bus in an effort to stay awake. I settled between two people in front of the back doors, and with every stop, the bus got more crowded, people moved closer to me, and claustrophobia kicked in:

“Look at all these people,” I thought. “They have germs. We’re all breathing the same air. Is it just me or is it getting warmer in here because we’re all breathing the same air?  I think I can smell everybody’s B.O….” 

I exited the bus before I had to.

Saved from rush hour, I thought about the day I will reclaim the privilege of sleeping at night. It’s not the worst thing ever, but this job sure is difficult. I’m trying to rebuild financial stability after five years of not having any ground, you know? Trying to figure out the course of my life while collecting a steady paycheque. Thinking about my future has got me so stressed out, I wish I would stop worrying somehow.

Without difficult, lonely, or desperate moments, self-improvement can’t happen. Life-changing events crash into our lives and wreak havoc as quickly as a dangerous storm, but unfortunately, it may take months or years to rebuild. We have to remain patient, because nature takes its time, and life is only natural.

Here’s a great quote about patience and work:

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without ploughing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

—Frederick Douglass, 1857

So please, just keep working on yourself. One day, we will see the fruits of our labor.