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  • Writer's pictureLisa Waterhouse

How to get the most out of therapy

The decision to begin therapy is such a positive and courageous step, but can feel daunting, especially if you dont know what to expect. It requires courage, determination, commitment, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to live a happier, more fulfilling life - even if the process is sometimes challenging. Here is a guide to getting the most out of your sessions.

Find the right therapist

Therapy is not a one-size-fits-all approach. There are various schools of thought in counselling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic, and humanistic. Each therapist brings their own unique blend of themselves and their training to their work. They will bring their different life experiences, perspectives, personalities and way of working.

If you have had therapy before and felt it didnt work for you for some reason; it might be there wasn’t a good fit between you, or that the therapist’s particular way of working didn’t resonate with you.

Find the therapist that fits. If you don’t find the right fit straight away, keep trying. It really is all about finding the approach, and the therapist, that’s right for you.

There isn't a quick fix

Therapy is not a magical cure or a quick-fix; meaningful and lasting change takes time. Social media is full of self help accounts, which can be really helpful to inspire you on your journey. Therapy is different: Its an opportunity to understand and address the root causes of your challenges and create the life you hope for. Be open to exploring the deeper layers of your experiences and emotions, recognising that this often requires time and commitment. Therapists may not always have the answers. There are no magic wands in therapy, just a safe space for you to explore, discover, reflect, and work through whatever challenges arise. The role of a therapist is not to tell their clients how they should live their lives, but to help them find and navigate their own path.

Be clear on where you want to get to

If therapy worked and you got the help you needed, what would your life look like in 6 months or a year from now? Knowing where you want to get to will help you to work with your therapist to establish realistic and achievable goals. Are you struggling with anxiety or depression? Are you hoping to feel more confident and comfortable in your own skin? Are you dealing with past trauma and want to find a way forward? Therapy is about finding a space to gently unpack, process and learn new skills to cope with the hard challenges in life. Working with a therapist who is genuine, nonjudgemental, and compassionate, and has the skills you need to support you can be a profound experience. Change really can happen.

Be present and committed

Therapy is not a passive process. Like most things, what you get from your sessions will depend on what you put in. Make sure you really show up and are able to be present. Sometimes you might feel anxious or want to avoid the discomfort and feel like cancelling your session. This will not make your problems go away and you are unlikely to create change, leaving you feeling frustrated or disappointed. Instead of doing what you have always done, be present and keep your appointment. Therapy is an investment in yourself and your future, and a space where you can feel safe and supported to make the changes that you hope for. If you are not fully engaged with the process, its likely you will be wasting your time.

Step out of your comfort zone

Change can be uncomfortable, and you may feel vulnerable being fully honest about your feelings.

A therapist will help you to learn and evolve, and to gently challenge you to find some perspective. Developing awareness and deeply understanding what is happening, being curious and beginning to connect the dots might feel overwhelming at first. Expect that thoughts or feelings can often come up after a session. However, the pacing of your sessions is important and will depend on how slow you need to go. Sometimes you might need to slow down through the really difficult work, and a good therapist can sense when to be cautious and pace the work accordingly. Your therapist will help you learn constructive skills for managing difficult emotions or situations and work out what will truly help you in your healing process.

Trust the process Counselling is a fluid process with ups and downs. Progress may not always follow a linear path, and setbacks are a normal part of the process - sometimes things may feel worse before they get better. Stay flexible and curious. You never know what might come up when you begin therapy and you may go down some unexpected paths. Trust that whatever comes up is the right thing to explore.

Be as open as you can It can be uncomfortable to discuss private thoughts and experiences, especially if you havent shared these before. You might try to avoid talking about something deeply painful, or you only want to share a part of your story. It’s important for your therapist to really know your story and what you’re experiencing, as a therapist can only work with what you bring. They are not there to judge you but to help you feel accepted and heard, and help you to navigate a way forward that brings meaning and purpose in your life. Remember, you are not in this alone. Therapy is an active process and a healing aspect comes from the rich and meaningful relationship between therapist and the client. Together, you explore your experiences and help you to work through the issues that bring you to therapy. You have someone sharing the journey with you, but you are always in control of what you choose to bring to the process.

Do the work outside your sessions

Reflecting on what has been talked about during your session and doing the work to apply it to your life outside of therapy is the best way to see your personal growth.

Go to your sessions prepared. If you’re wondering what you can do between your sessions, ask your therapist about ways you can carry on the work outside of your 50-minute meeting. This might be homework, taking notes throughout the week, keeping a journal and considering whatever it is you really need to talk about.

Celebrate small wins Acknowledge and celebrate the small victories along the way. Whether it's gaining new insights, developing coping skills, or achieving personal milestones, recognising progress, no matter how small, can be motivating and help you to see how far you’ve come.

If you’re not getting the most out of therapy sessions

If you feel that your therapy has isn’t working or has plateaued, talk to your therapist. Together you may decide to change the approach/find a different way of working for you. Talk about what is working and what is difficult, as this can be an important part of therapy. Take some time to consider together if you’re fully engaging with therapy, and what else might be going on for you. If you leave therapy at the first hurdle or two you will not see the results you hope for, and may miss an important opportunity for growth.

Sometimes, therapy is working, but just not as well as you want it to. People often come to therapy as a last resort. Someone with depression, anxiety, or PTSD, for example, might delay seeking help for months or even years. Whilst this is completely understandable, it might mean that youve hit rock bottom and it will take time and patience to work through it to feel better.

However, If things still feel like they are not working, and you dont feel you ‘click’ with your therapist, then its possible that you are just not the best fit. It might be time to find someone else to help you continue your journey.

Conclusion Therapy can help you untangle your thoughts, uncover layers of past hurt that might have been buried for a long time, work through self-destructive patterns, and understand the complexity of being human. With insight, curiosity, awareness and challenge, you can understand what might be holding you back or how you can truly heal. The goal is for you to come to a place of clarity and confidence in making better choices, and learning to live life with more ease.

Take a breath, embrace the journey, set some goals, and keep being open and curious. It might just be worth it.


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