While the overall goal of therapy is the very vague ‘to be happier,’ you may not have any idea what that means for you yet. That’s okay. Your therapist can help you break down your overall goal into smaller, achievable goals. When you start therapy, your therapist can help you clarify what’s not working in your life. Specifically, your therapist will help you increase your clarity about:
- The scope and impact of your presenting problem
- Your beliefs about the presenting problem
- The kind of changes you want to make
- The kind of life you want to build
- The kind of person you aspire to be in order to build the kind of life you want
- Your blocks to becoming the kind of person you aspire to be
- The skills and knowledge necessary to achieve your goals
While having a good therapist is important, what you do with the therapist is just as important. Therapy is not passive. It requires your active participation, motivation and commitment. Clients who work hard at helping themselves are more likely to have successful therapy outcomes.
During your sessions, try to:
- Give your therapist access to the real you. This means being totally honest and vulnerable.
- Rip down the walls you’ve built to protect yourself. Only when you stop hiding behind those walls and instead reveal your true thoughts and feelings can you can get honest, useful feedback.
- Give your therapist feedback. Tell him/her about how you experience the session, what’s helpful/unhelpful, and your reactions to both the therapist and the therapy in general.
- Providing this feedback enables your therapist to better meet your needs.
- Think critically about your sessions, and feel free to question your therapist’s instructions, skills, and motives.
- Periodically ask your therapist to assess your progress with you (if your treatment is longer-term).
- You can maximize the benefit you get from your therapy by devoting time to your growth between sessions, as well.
Before every meeting, try to:
- Reflect on your goals for being in therapy
- Think about the next step you want to take to get closer to reaching your goals
To create the life you really want, you will have to prioritize your therapy and your growth. This looks different for each person, but may mean spending some of your free time differently, tolerating temporary emotional discomfort in the name of lasting change, and being open to change — even if it’s scary.
Listen to Your Discomfort
Expect emotional discomfort, as it is always part of the growth process. In therapy you will take risks, and try novel ways of thinking and behaving. Your growth depends on your ability to tolerate this discomfort. It’s crucial to choose a therapist you trust so that when discomfort strikes, you feel safe enough to let down your walls and examine the cause.
Discomfort is revealing and useful — often it signals a problem area for you, and exploring it with your therapist can be a catalyst for profound change. There is an exception, however. If your discomfort stems not from your own ‘stuff’ but from your relationship with your therapist, it could be a red flag telling you that your therapist may not be right for you.Trust yourself on this.
Be Open to Change
You’re entering therapy for support and guidance as you make changes in your life. Since how you’ve been living (thinking, behaving, etc.) is no longer working for you, it’s time to take your life off of autopilot and try something new. If you’re with a therapist you trust, take the risk, there is a lot to be gained.