You’ve started seeing a therapist, and it seems to be going well. You’ve been to a session or two, and you feel like you’re headed in a good direction. So…what now?
Therapy isn’t cheap – it takes time, emotional energy, and yes, money. Here are six tips to make sure you’re making the most of all three.
Keep a journal.
One of my Sophia teammates keeps a small notebook. After every therapy session, he writes down his key takeaways. During the weeks between therapy sessions, he makes a note whenever something happens that he wants to discuss with his therapist. He started doing this after noticing that he often just told his therapist whatever was on his mind during a therapy session. Later he would kick himself for not having discussed something important that had happened earlier in the week. Since starting to keep this journal, he says that he feels like his therapy sessions are more targeted to his biggest issues. He also says that he can give his therapist a better sense of how he’s doing.
We recommend keeping it simple – no need to journal every day, or even to write in full sentences. Just write a quick bullet point in a notebook or in a note on your phone whenever something comes up. Before heading in for your therapy session, glance back at this list to refresh your memory.
Let me tell you a secret: therapists love feedback. It helps them do their job better, it helps them understand what’s going on inside your head, and the act of giving it can be very powerful for you, their client.
I remember the first time I gave my therapist feedback. For the last month, I had left my sessions feeling small – I felt like my therapist was judging me for my lack of progress. It was getting to the point where I was dreading going to therapy. Finally, I built up my courage to tell her how I was feeling. It was far less uncomfortable than I thought it would be, plus it had a huge impact on our relationship. My therapist was grateful for the feedback, and started working with me in a gentler manner. Not only did this new style work better for me, but my act of speaking up did wonders to build my confidence. Years later, I still think of this moment every time I start a difficult conversation.
Bring in “primary evidence.”
Recently, one of our clients brought in a printout of an email that related to a topic he wanted to discuss (his current relationship). Reading the email gave the therapist a better sense of some of the issues at play between the client and his partner. It can be hard to describe how you feel, or how you act, especially if it is days later.
A written record can help jog your memory and give your therapist more context. Try bringing in emails, journal entries, or other types of "primary evidence" to your therapy sessions.
Be smart about scheduling.
There’s no better way to instantly forget everything you talked about in a therapy session than rushing off to the phone call or meeting you scheduled back-to-back.
Schedule sessions at a time when you can get the most out of them, and aren’t running off to another activity. Try to commit to spending the five or fifteen minutes after your session sitting and reflecting on what you discussed. Build in buffer room so you can calmly, slowly head to your next commitment.
For some people, this will mean scheduling appointments at the end of the day, or on a weekend. For other people, it means blocking off an extra half hour on their calendar after the appointment. Try both, and figure out what works for you.
If you are investing in therapy, it’s almost a guarantee that at some point you’ll be dealing with difficult emotions. When this happens, it can be tempting to stop responding to your therapist’s calls and texts, and quit going to therapy.
If you do decide to stop going to therapy, that is absolutely fine. However, talking through this decision with your therapist can be an awesome opportunity for closure and growth. Many of us avoid uncomfortable or difficult situations in our everyday lives. This habit is often one of the things we’re trying to fix through therapy! Sometimes, by discussing what isn’t working for you, you’ll be able to figure out a way to fix it and improve your therapy relationship. Other times, you will give your therapist the gift of feedback, helping them figure out how to improve in the future. Either way, your therapist will respect your decision.
Notice small wins.
Chances are you’re working on a complicated set of issues that aren’t going to immediately disappear - you're human, after all! One way to make this all seem less overwhelming is to notice and celebrate small changes. Did you catch yourself before you honked at the car that cut you off? Did you go on a walk every evening for a week? Did you and your therapist start to figure out some of the reasons you’re so jealous of your sister? Call it out, and give yourself a mental pat on the back.
It can be motivating to keep a small notebook where you jot down your takeaways after each therapy session. As time passes, you’ll be able to look back through this notebook and see all that you’ve accomplished.
If these tips were helpful for you, or if you’ve found other ways to supercharge your therapy sessions, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d also love if you shared this article with friends or family members!
For a more comprehensive guide on starting therapy, click here.