How you interact with a therapy group or counselor determines what you’ll get out of mental health therapy. It’s not simply a matter of going to sessions to be “fixed.” Let’s take a look at how you can make the most of your therapy sessions.
1. Actively participate: Therapy isn’t a spectator sport. You’ll need to be an active participant to get results. Expecting a therapist or group to carry the sessions won’t work—you need to engage as well.1
2. Ask direct questions: One simple and easy way to engage is to ask direct questions. Don’t couch what you want to say in riddles or obscure terms. You’ll get to the root of issues faster and more effectively by asking direct questions.
3. Create a nurturing environment: To bolster your active participation, create a nurturing environment for yourself. Nurture yourself by relaxing between sessions. Try journaling to reflect on what you’re thinking and feeling.2 Bring your journal to your sessions to review your reflections.
4. Take care of your physical health: It’s important to eat well, exercise and get enough sleep so you are physically fit. By staying fit, you’ll give your body the resources it needs to take you down the path of growth and change.
5. Don’t withhold: If you think something is important to your mental health therapy, reveal it. Don’t withhold any important information or ideas. Holding back could slow your progress in mental health therapy. Even if you have an “irrational” or “unimportant” thought, say it rather than suppress it. What you might think is insignificant could prove to be significant, once you reveal it.
6. Be brave: Therapy will stir up a lot of emotions and feelings, some of which you may find uncomfortable. But through adversity comes personal growth, so be brave. Remember you’re in an environment meant to help you.
7. Put in place the changes discussed: It’s not enough to simply talk about change, you have to actually do it. Make the changes you’ve talked about in therapy to see positive results. Once you embody these changes, it’s proof therapy is working. Proof motivates you to keep moving forward.
8. Be patient with yourself: The changes you’re seeking can be difficult and slow. Growth takes time, effort and patience. Focus on applying learned skills (process goals), rather than focusing on “results” (outcome goals). Think of process goals as habits. In the end, habits will lead to outcomes, but at first your goal should be simply to establish the habits. By establishing healthy habits with patience, you’ll build the foundations for growth and change.
9. Attend all sessions: If you and your therapist agree, at the start of therapy, that four to eight sessions are needed, don’t abruptly stop therapy before that point.3 If you feel a need to terminate therapy, talk to your therapist about it, don’t just stop going with no warning. Don’t be embarrassed if you want to stop before the agreed-upon number of sessions. It’s always a good idea to plan a final session to make sure you tie up any loose ends before terminating therapy.