Therapy is essential for anyone trying to recover from a substance use disorder or a mental health issue. Therapy is where you uncover what drives destructive behavior and where you learn strategies for emotional regulation, processing trauma, and living a more fulfilling life. Therapists are experts in mental health and experienced therapists have a process for helping new clients, so don’t feel like you have to know anything in particular before going into therapy. However, there are some ways you can help make therapy more effective. Here are some tips to make the most of your time with your therapist.
Remember that therapy is a collaborative process.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that therapy is a collaboration. It’s not like taking your car into the shop, where your therapist fixes you then sends you on your way. Your therapist can help you uncover the reasons for your behavior and help you improve it, but she can’t do it all for you. Therapy is much more effective if you enter it in the spirit of cooperation and willing to do your part to make it work.
Don’t hold back.
In everyday conversation, we’re used to censoring ourselves. Typically, this is useful. It’s not a great idea to confide all your hopes and fears in whoever happens to be in the room with you. And as a practical matter, communication works much better when you stick to the point. Therapy is a different matter, though. It requires a certain willingness to say what’s on your mind, even if you’re worried it might sound offensive, embarrassing, or irrelevant. Those strange feelings and distant memories that we experience at apparently random moments may not be appropriate to share in casual conversations, but they may be valuable clues during a therapy session. Say what’s on your mind and therapy will progress more quickly.
Do the work between sessions.
As noted above, your therapist can’t do everything for you. Your therapist will often give you homework to do between sessions. This isn’t typically onerous, but it may be challenging. For example, she might ask you to write down moments when you’ve felt depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, and then have you write down the thoughts associated with those feelings. Or she might ask you to write down 3 things you’re grateful for. Just as you wouldn’t expect to make much progress playing the piano if you only went to lessons once a week but never practiced on the days in between, you shouldn’t expect an hour or two hours a week of therapy to make a change in your life if you don’t apply what you learn during sessions. Even if you don’t get homework, it’s a good idea to keep a journal of what you talked about and whatever thoughts occur to you along those lines.
This goes along with “Don’t hold back” above, but it deserves special attention. We often get in the habit of lying by omission in order to be polite or avoid conflict. We may say voice a socially acceptable opinion rather than our real opinion. However, therapy is about you and what’s going on in your head and if you insist on expressing thoughts and feelings that aren’t your own, then you’re only holding yourself back. This goes for your thought and feelings about your therapist too. If you feel like your therapist is wrong about something, say so. This can sometimes be challenging, but it can also be good practice for being more honest with yourself and the other people in your life.
We’re often discouraged from asking questions, or we might feel foolish asking questions when we feel like everyone else knows the answer, but asking questions in therapy can be extremely helpful. Whatever you happen to wonder about is fair game. Do you wonder if you’re the only one who cries in the bathroom at work? Ask your therapist about it. Do you want to know whether your therapist has had much experience treating ADHD or whether your intrusive thoughts are something to worry about? Ask. Your therapist works for you and will be happy to answer most questions, as long as they don’t violate confidentiality. It may be especially helpful to ask questions about how therapy works, or psychology in general to better orient yourself in treatment.
Have some goals in mind.
People rarely enter therapy without some idea why they’re there. If you struggle with addiction or depression, your goal is typically to get your addiction under control or to stop feeling depressed. This much is obvious, but it might also help to have some markers in mind. How will you know you are making progress on these goals? Will you consider therapy successful if you can get out of bed and go to work, or do you have to feel happy about it? You can discuss your goals with your therapist and she can help you know what to expect. It also helps to go into each session with some idea of what you want to talk about. If something stressful happened since your last session and you feel like you didn’t handle it well, maybe you want to start with that. Your session doesn’t only have to be about that, but it could be a way into a fruitful discussion.
Be careful who you talk to about therapy.
There’s no shame in going to therapy and these days there’s not much stigma attached to letting people know you see a therapist, but you might want to share the details of what you discuss judiciously. Some people will want to weigh in and give their own advice, which may or may not be helpful. Others might be a negative influence in your life and feel threatened by your becoming more confident and independent. Who you share with is entirely up to you, so think about it carefully.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.