Some tips for getting the most out of psychotherapy
Take the Whole Hour: It is called a "therapy hour" but it's only 50 minutes. Get your money's worth by collecting your thoughts and preparing for your session in advance.
Time: Let the therapist be in charge of ending the session on time. You have other things to think about in the session.
Make it Part of Your Life: Therapy works best when you take what you have learned and apply it to your life in real situations. Between sessions, notice areas in your life you would like to explore. You may find it helpful to engage in some self-reflection at times, or to keep a note-book with you so that you can make notes of topics that you would like to discuss at the next session.
Journal: Use a journal to reflect on your sessions and jot down things you notice about yourself between sessions. The journal does not have to be a narrative diary, just a place to record odd thoughts or feelings you may have. You could even bring it to sessions.
Business First: Take care of payment, scheduling etc. Nothing is more awkward than ending a session with a big revelation or emotional breakthrough followed by three minutes of cheque writing or fumbling for cash and making arrangements for the next session. Get all those logistical issues out of the way right at the beginning.
Relationship: After the business items above raise any issues you have concerning your relationship with your therapist (if there are any). This could be anything - perhaps you are thinking about ending therapy, maybe you felt angry after the last session, are you worried about what your therapist thinks of you, you may even have dreamt of your therapist and so on. These “relationship” issues could impact on other areas of your therapy, so are important to consider and perhaps to discuss with your therapist.
What do I Want? How do I Feel? These questions are really for clients who feel stuck. If you find yourself lost and you do not know what to talk about, revisit these questions and you will almost certainly find material to discuss. For example, simply naming what you feel to your therapist will provide a starting point for the session.
Allow Yourself to Ask Anything: Clients sometimes withhold questions because they believe asking is against the rules. You may ask whatever you want, let the therapist explain their own boundaries on topics that you introduce. For example, do you want to know a personal detail, get a professional opinion or an explanation for something that your therapist did or said? Go ahead and ask. You may not get a straight answer, but you should get a reason why not, and you may then learn something about yourself in the process.
Try New Things: Therapy is a great place for thinkers to try feeling, listeners to practice talking, passive people to be assertive etc. If you want to rehearse an expected confrontation then ask if this is possible in the session. You could even agree with the therapist to practice asking someone out on a date. You could perhaps let yourself cry in front of your therapist or allow yourself to feel vulnerable. Therapy is a great place for practising things that you would ordinarily avoid.
Learn to Ask: A lot of people want advice from their therapist. Therapy is more about helping you come to your own conclusions than having the therapist make decisions for you. This benefits you in the long run but may seem disappointing at the time but by asking the question you can start he process of learning about yourself.
Let youself Ask Why: Ask yourself why you behave/think/feel as you do. Why do I hate my boss so much? Why am I so anxious before sessions? You can then bring the questions and your conclusions to therapy so that they can be discussed and looked at in detail. There will probably be a very good learning opportunity for you there.
Challenge Jargon: Some therapists have been doing this work so long they assume everyone knows what they're talking about. If the therapist says some gibberish you cannot understand ( for example, "this boundary violation exacerbates your abandonment issues and fixated Oedipal complex"), ask him what he means.
Say the Odd Thought: Therapy is one place where strange thoughts are acceptable. In fact, “the odder the better”. Have a sudden impulse? Say it. Flash to a certain memory and talk about it. The phrase some things are better left unsaid does NOT apply in therapy sessions so speak freely and you might learn something interesting.
Be Aware of Your Therapist: Not just who he or she is, but who you imagine them to be. And how you imagine they feel about you. Talk about your relationship in detail to see how your projections influence this and other relationships. Often the relationship with the therapist mirrors or reflects relationships with others. It can be a fantastic opportunity to really look at how you see others and (perhaps more importantly), how others see you.
Go Deeper: If you find yourself running through mundane details of your week or hitting awkward silences, there may be a deeper issue you are avoiding. Ask yourself what it is you are not talking about and then talk about it in the session. Discuss what you're discovering about yourself. Take the time to explore who you are, what you feel and why you do what you do. Try to tackle some deeper questions. Try: "I wonder why I ___" or: "Deep down, I really feel ___".
Dream On: Bring in dreams, daydreams and fantasies, especially those about therapy. People often have more of this material when in therapy and can be incredibly rich to explore. Dreams, daydreams and fantasies can be the way into your subconscious so that you can learn even more about yourself.
Keep the Energy in the Room: Thoughts, feelings and questions about the therapy are best discussed first with the therapist. When you run everything by your friends first, it diffuses the energy of the encounter and sidesteps an opportunity for the therapist to understand you better.
Allow Change: Some people ask for change but feel uncomfortable when it actually happens. Accept that if you are seeking change, things probably will change, and it may require more change than you thought. An eating disorder, a sexual problem, interpersonal conflicts, an addiction - these may require a major life re-think, not just a small tweek!
Engage in the Process and Enjoy it: Therapy is like enrolling in a “course” where you are the subject matter. If you are curious, teachable and motivated to do some work, it can be one of the most challenging and rewarding “courses” you ever take enjoy it.