How to help your therapist help you
Doing your part can help you get better results..
First, think through what you want to achieve in therapy, says psychologist Robert Switzer, Psy.D. a faculty member at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. “It’s not unusual to walk in with one idea,” he says, “and walk out without having identified the problem. Take a personal inventory and get feedback from friends and family members too.”
What’s most important is that you actively participate in the process, he says. “The therapist is going to hand you a hammer and screwdriver and tell you how to use them. It’s your job to put the tools to work.”
Keeping a mood chart or writing in a journal can help you share your thoughts and feelings during your therapy session. Try to identify what makes you feel better and what makes you feel worse.
Above all, says Dr. Switzer, be honest with your therapist, even if, and especially if, it’s difficult. Reach beyond your comfort level and expect to be challenged.
Therapy may be long-term or brief. “A client may expect months of therapy and be surprised that she gained what she needed after only a session or two,” he says. “Another client may come in with what he thinks is an emotional hangnail and discover he has quite a lot of work to do.”
“Much of the progress happens after the client leaves my office,” he says, “sometimes after treatment has ended.”
Here are some additional suggestions from Dr. Switzer for getting the most out of your therapy experience:
Dos and don’ts
- choose your therapist carefully. Consider their credentials, but what really matters is that you feel a connection with him or her.
- keep appointments and arrive on time. Follow the therapist’s rules for canceling. A consistent schedule can help you stay focused.
- pay for each session as it begins, so you’ll feel motivated and ready to work.
- do the homework your therapist might assign. Go for extra credit by finding a book or online article that you find helpful.
- tell your therapist if you’re feeling anger or other strong feelings about him/her. It may shed light on other relationships in your life.
- be rigid. Therapy is all about change.
- keep secrets from your therapist.
- think that therapy is going to fix all your problems. What you’ll gain are different ways of looking at yourself and new behaviors to try. The process of growth is yours.
- allow your fees to build up.
And, finally, don’t abruptly quit and find another therapist if you’re unsatisfied. Try to work it out. It may help you uncover patterns in your relationships that you can work on. On the other hand, consider finding a new therapist if you feel you’re not making progress. Talk with your therapist about why you want to leave and ask for a referral.
Robert Switzer, Psy.D., is a clinical psychology faculty member at The Chicago School and has two decades of experience in private practice and both inpatient and outpatient settings.
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