By Bernice Imei Hsu, RN, MAC, LMHC, RYT
You’ve decided to try therapy to resolve a personal issue or handle with a situation thst just has not improved over time. You’ve done the research, selected a reputable therapist, and signed the consent forms. Several weeks in, your pretty sure the therapist works well with you. Now what? Here’s how to get the most out of your therapy sessions.
1. Post-session Analysis. At the end of a session (and anytime between sessions) jot down a note or two, record questions that arise during the week, and create a physical note of where you left off in the previous session. While a good therapist can remind you of where the last session ended, you will likely find yourself more personally invested in your process if you make notes to yourself of your own action points and intereests.
2. Practice in the microcosm and live IRL. The therapy session is a microcosm of your life. It’s a great place to ask questions, think through options, and practice what you are learning. But don’t forget to take it to the real world, and observe what happens. Bring your experiences back to the therapy session, and make course adjustments.
3. Everything is game. While you think you are taking a breather, your mind is still going. Fantasies, dreams, incidental events and conversations, and seemingly coincidental happenings have a strange way of converging that seems obscure to you. Bring it all to the therapy hour, and try not to edit. Allow themes to emerge without trying too hard to create them.
4. Be consistent. Don’t put large amounts of time between sessions and expect yourself to hit the ground running. Like reading a book you’ve put down for too long, you might need to spend time reading the paragraphs preceding the place yu want to land in a session. If you must miss sessions because you are out of town, consider a phone session, and Internet based session, or the assignment of homework between sessions.
5. If you get “stuck”, ask for feedback. As strange as this sounds, some clients terminate too soon because they get stuck in a rut and erroneously conclude it’s either because there is nothing more to say, or their problems are no longer critical/crisis oriented. While the initial problem that brought you to therapy may have been addressed, the underlying issues may be the ones you’re trying to avoid. By receiving feeedback in theerapy, you may see your choices more clearly.
6. Apply a multimedia approach to learning. Between sessions, try watching film, reading books, attending workshops, or engaging others on the subjects arising in therapy. Find support groups, peruse reputable blogs, or listen to podcasts. Educate and empower yourself.
7. Learn to pay closer attention to your style of relating. During conversation, when do you relax? Feel anxious? Combative? Snarky? You’re really cooking in the therapy process when you can share what you are feeling as you are feeling it, even if you have prohibitions against those feelings.
8. Expect a “dud” session once and awhile. If you are aware in the middle of session that you feel the session is going nowhere, do not be afraid to say so. Dud sessions often follow a really dynamic one or two sessions. Tney should not be misconstued as wrong-doing on the pqrt of the therapist or the client.
9. When appropriate, bring the partner or family member most affected by what you are learning in therapy to a session. By doing so, the therapist can help garner that person’s emotional support while looking for more data or directions in therapy by watching how your loved one interracts with you.
10. Ask your therapist about session-by-session measurements. I use two forms called ORS (Outcome Rating Scale) and SRS (Session Rating Scale) before and after sessions with certain clients who benefit by seeing week-to-week benefit and progress versus occasional summary and feedback. These forms by Scott D. Miller and Barry Duncan provide numbers that can be plotted on a grid with a suggested thresh hold for when therapeutic goals and the client’s satisfaction has been achieved. While not everyone needs this kind of feedback, you might be the kind that enjoys seeing measurable progress, and the forms take less than 2-3 minutes at the front and back end of every session to complete.
My final suggestion for getting the most out of your therapy sessions is less a tip as much as it is something that improves your satisfaction and enjoyment of almost any activity. I recommend that you arrive five minutes before your session, whether at the office or over the Internet, to give yourself time to “show up”. Use that time to remove noisy thoughts, take a breath, and transition from whatever you were doing beforehand to thoughts about entering the session with your full presence. Similarly, after the session is over, take a moment to breathe before moving onto the next activity. Check in with yourself: are you ready to climb into a car or onto a motorcycle? Is your mind clear enough to re-enter your work environment and take an important phone call? Put closure on your session, and give yourself a little time to transition back into your busy work world or home life.