Frame Therapist Taneille Smith shares her tips for making the most out of therapy. These are incredibly useful for anyone starting therapy for the first time, as well as for those who are re-engaging at difference phases of life.
#1: Be clear about what you want out of it.
How can we do this? If you are having difficulty clarifying what you want out of therapy, it can be helpful to come at that question from a different angle.
Whenever I am talking with someone for the first time, I ask “Why are you seeking help now?” That question helps to contextualize whatever someone is struggling with and if you talk it through, it will lead you to what you want.
For example – let’s say you’ve acknowledged that you’ve struggled with anxiety since you were young. You have clear memories of that as a child and it has come and gone in adulthood. OK, so if that issue is long standing, what is it about now that is motivating you to ask for help? Someone may say, for example, that they finally realized that the reason they were not going for that promotion at work is because they were afraid that they would be in a position where others would notice their anxiety. That if they were higher profile, they would be noticed more.
They knew, though, that they were perfect for that role and had the necessary skills to kick ass at it. In other words, something in their current experience caused them to look at the issue in a new way. Their explicit goal here is to get the promotion, but their implicit goal is to feel more capable and courageous in their life, and that's where we can start in therapy.
For the person that can’t identify something concrete that has recently motivated them, I would come at it from the angle of how would they know that something had changed? For example, for the person who just describes their circumstances as “something is off/I don’t feel like myself anymore” they could answer the questions “how would you feel if things felt more “right”, or, “what does being yourself feel like?” Answers to those questions will get at what they want.
#2: Find supplemental material to help you swim in those waters more than once a week.
Podcasts are great sources of supplemental material. What gets discovered in sessions will just deepen and take on more meaning if you listen to others talk about this experience. Something like "Armchair Expert" or "We Can Do Hard Things" would be great. This is something you should be able to think through with your therapist. They will likely have suggestions and if they don’t right away, they can get some for you.
Journaling or spending some quiet time walking, jogging, yoga – whatever is a kind of contemplative activity for you can also be helpful because people tend to have insights and “ah-ha” moments during these times.
If you’re a social media person, following a therapist/counselor that posts content that you like can be helpful.
It’s important to note that this is a balance. It is possible to get too consumed with “getting better” and drown yourself in content. Talk with your therapist about what supplemental things you’re doing.
#3. When something isn't feeling right, bring it up!
The best advice I can give on this is to keep it real simple for yourself.
If you are anxious about bringing something up, don’t put pressure on yourself to have to say it perfectly or explain it perfectly right away. All you have to do is introduce the subject. Once you do that, you have done all you need to do. What happens after that is a collaborative process.
You can start by saying – “There’s something I want to bring up, but I’m nervous (or) “It feels hard” (or) “I’m not quite sure how to explain it”. Now it’s your therapist's job to help you out and be as patient as you need them to be.
Some people begin to notice that they pick and choose what they share because of concerns around being “liked” by their therapist. For most people, bringing this up feels vulnerable and therefore they feel reluctant to share it. However, if it’s not addressed it can really get in the way of doing the work you’re there to do.
It’s helpful to keep these two things in mind –
1. Who doesn’t want to be liked? It is a universal human desire. There is nothing wrong with you for wanting to be liked.
2. You are not alone – it’s common for people to worry about this from time to time in therapy. Rest assured, you are most certainly not alone.
About the Author: Taneille Smith is a licensed therapist in both CA & WA and has been practicing for 15+ years. She prides herself on being genuine, direct and real with her clients. She specializes in working with addiction and trauma. Click here to view Taneille's therapist profile and schedule a free introductory call.
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