Therapy Is Not a Spectator Sport
Updated: May 11, 2022
Therapy isn't a spectator sport; it really isn’t. Sometimes when people start therapy for the first time, they think that their therapist will have all the answers or that the therapist is the boss and will tell them what to do. I will let you in on a little trade secret; we don’t have all the answers and even if we think we think we do, we shouldn’t tell you. Our job is to help you find your own answers. I view my role as a therapist to be a guide, a partner in healing, a cheerleader, a supporter, and sometimes a teacher. Unless you are doing a therapy with a very specific treatment protocol like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), chances are that you are going to need to bring your own ideas and topics for discussion to therapy. Let’s dive in!
You are committing to spending a lot of time and money on this venture towards healing and become more fully you. Make your investment count! The clients that I see make the most out of sessions are really committed to counseling. They are not coming to counseling because someone else thinks they should come; they want this for themselves. They deeply want to feel better, or they want to improve their functioning from “okay” to that of a person who is thriving.
Steps You Can Take to Get the Most Out of Therapy
1. Actively participate. Before sessions take a few moments to jot down topics that you want to make sure to discuss in session. That might be observations on your emotions from the previous week(s), successes you had with new strategies, problem situations that you are trying to figure out, etc. Therapy is not the place to sit back and be complacent.
2. Cultivate curiosity. Curiosity will take you a long way in your journey towards mental health. Become curious about why your anxiety gets worse in some situations and gets better in others. Be curious about why you are experiencing the symptoms you are. I often ask clients “what are your theories on why you developed this problem/symptom?”
3. Be brave. Say those things that you would normally keep to yourself. I’ve had clients tell me that the reason that therapy didn’t “work” for them in the past is because they weren’t forth coming about what was really going on with them. If you are a survivor of abuse, neglect, assault, or other traumas let your therapist know. Even if you are not ready to talk about it, it would serve you well to put that on the table so your therapist can better understand and help you. I always tell my clients that they are in the driver’s seat and that we will talk about these things if and when they are ready.
4. Ask for feedback from your therapist. Ask your therapist something like “Is there anything else that you are noticing about my situation that I’m not seeing” or “is there anything else that I can be doing in therapy or outside therapy that will help me."
5. Dive right in. The clients that I see make a lot of progress in therapy, dive right in. They tend to consider all the ways in which they can become healthier. I’ve seen different clients do the following in conjunction with therapy: meditation (start with 5 minutes), guided hypnosis, watch Ted Talks, read book(s) on whatever they are trying to heal, spend more time with partner, stop watching TV shows and movies that are violent, go to the gym, take a break from social media or the news, end relationships, work on making more friends, do yoga, go for walks or hikes, volunteer, go back to school, sign up for a 5K, take breaks when getting stressed, find a support group, find a creative outlet, start a small business, eat better, reduce or give up caffeine and alcohol, learn to say "no", return to school, decide to change careers, go to couples counseling, get a physical, etc. You don’t have to do all these things but imagine the impact if you just did a couple of them! Just 5 minutes of meditation a day and/or 10 minutes of yoga can make a big impact on how you feel.
Understand that therapy is an opportunity to grow as a human, not just a method to do away with the symptoms. The anxiety, depression or other problems are just symptoms; they are not the problem. When we get down to the root causes and address those, that’s when the real magic happens. Combine that with making changes in your life and the process of therapy can truly be life changing!