How to make the most of therapy

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and start therapy sessions. Congratulations! The next thing to consider is how you can get the most of your sessions.

Why it is important to make the most of your sessions?

For many of us therapy sessions can be limited to a few weeks worth of sessions so it is really important that we can do the best we can to facilitate the sessions by doing our bit. Moreover, if you are accessing therapy through the NHS, you could face waiting weeks to months for your therapy to begin due to long waiting lists and an increasing demands for mental health services. So it’s even more important to ensure you are getting the most out of your sessions.

Note-taking throughout your week

As someone who is always going through ‘to-do lists’ regularly as I simply forget quite quickly, it is really important to jot down thoughts, feelings and ideas that may pop up during your week ready to discuss in your sessions if you find them relevant to your development and recovery. Perhaps an unpleasant memory popped up that you felt you needed space to discuss and process, or something positive you experienced during the week that uplifted you. It is difficult (and quite taxing on our memory) to remember to all our thoughts and feelings down (which is why journaling is brilliant) but regardless, note taking is an invaluable tool to aid your therapy sessions.

Homework

Often your therapist may decide to set you some homework in order for you to practice what you may have covered in sessions. For example, you may be asked to remind yourself of affirmations, or making healthier choices in your day like having a consistent sleep-wake routine, limiting caffeine and social media use. You may be asked to keep a note of any intrusive thoughts or nightmares you may be experiencing ready to discuss in your session.

Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts or mental images that make people feel uncomfortable.

Harvard Health Publishing, (2021)

You could also be asked to keep a journal, think about statements such as “what are my values” or “what are your goals for therapy”. It is important to complete homework alongside your therapy sessions to ensure that you can help enhance your therapists understanding of you, so that you may help them help you!

Ask questions

It is important to develop the natural curiousness we have with regards to our mind and thoughts. Learning more about particular mental health diagnoses such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and many more is important for many reasons. For example, learning why our brains behave differently when faced with different triggers could provide relief to someone. Oftentimes, we shame ourselves as we may not understand the whys. In doing so however, you can put your mind at ease.

Honesty

One thing many therapists would appreciate is actually being honest with your therapist about what works (or doesn’t) work for you. You may find that sessions weekly may be too much and therefore you’d prefer to have fortnightly sessions. Alternatively, asking your therapist to provide a different approach to support your recovery, such as space to discuss any poignant moments from your childhood that you feel like would support your development. Essentially, therapy is for you and designed to support you how you would like to be supported. Don’t worry if you feel like you can’t identify what you need support with, often therapists can guide you and prompt you to delve deeper into thoughts and feelings to delve deeper.

I certainly struggled with this as many times you may fear being judged, but therapy is a safe space where you can discuss anything without judgement and in total anonymity as long as you are kept safe.*

Person Centred Therapists

Fundamentals of Person Centred Therapy suggest that therapists must be congruent (genuine), have unconditional positive regard (non-judging) and feel empathy towards the client.
Carl Rogers (1957), Kelly (2017)

The right vibe

Accessing therapy through health services could limit how many therapists there may be to choose from but, it is essential to ensure that you feel like you can work with your therapist. If you have the gift of choice (often more prevalent in private health settings), you may find after a few sessions that you do not find the therapist to meet your needs as well as they can.

You may decide to opt for a male therapist rather a female therapist as you may feel more comfortable discussing particular topics for them. Moreover, you could also decide to have a therapist who is from a different ethnic background or the same religious background. Often making small tweaks could make a huge difference to things like how willing we are to discuss particular topics, but also ensuring that you feel as comfortable as possible. For example, you may wish to speak to someone who is of a south-Asian background as they may be able to understand cultural norms and traditions.

Therapists by default are impartial, supportive and non-judgemental. Additionally, therapy is about making you feel comfortable to facilitate open, honest and judgement-free conversations and discuss topics you may otherwise struggle to outside of a therapeutic environment.

*Therapists are trained to keep interactions completely confidential. However, if they suspect that you or someone else may be in danger then the relevant professions will need to be informed. Your safety (and the safety of others) is paramount.


Support

  • Samaritans – a free, confidential helpline if you or someone you know is in need and would like to speak to someone urgently- Call 116 123
  • Call 999 or visit A&E immediately if you are in a serious situation and are at risk of harm
  • Click here to find out about various Mental Health Crisis Helplines in England

References

Kelly K (2017) Basic Counselling Skills: A Student Guide

Rogers C (1957) ‘The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change’, Journal of Consulting Psychology, Vol. 21, pp 95–103

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