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How to make the most of every therapy appointment
Follow this expert advice to make sure your therapy journey is as healing as possible.
Going to therapy means making a commitment to your mental health. That’s a positive thing. And because it takes time, money and emotional energy, you want to make sure you’re getting what you need out of each appointment.
From logistics to communicating effectively with your therapist, here’s how to make the most out of your time on the couch or in front of the computer.
Therapy tip #1: Find your space
If you’re doing virtual therapy, you’ll want to secure a space that’s private and peaceful, says Caroline Brown, L.M.S.W. She’s a senior associate therapist with Gateway to Solutions in New York City. One of the benefits of going to an office is that walking into the therapy room is an immersive experience. It’s designed to make you feel comfortable and eliminate distractions.
At home, you can create a similar atmosphere. Just make sure you choose a place where you won’t be interrupted by family members or animals or get mentally pulled away. Turn off notifications on your devices or set them to “do not disturb.” And don’t schedule therapy when you’re doing something else, such as walking your dogs or driving in your car.
Virtual therapy makes it easy to get the mental health support you need from anywhere. Check out our services from the Optum Store.
Therapy tip #2: Take 5 to get in the zone
It can be tough to switch gears from work or caring for the kids to the vulnerability of a therapy session. To bridge those states of mind, take 5 to 10 minutes before your session to sit quietly. Ask yourself how you’re feeling and what you’d like to talk about, Brown says. You can even try a short mindfulness exercise.
“It’s not necessary to come in with a checklist. But this practice can also help you identify where you’re at emotionally,” she says.
Therapy tip #3: Let the therapist lead you
If you tend to bounce around from thought to thought, that’s okay. If you feel like there’s a lot going on, you can say: “These are all the thoughts I’m having. Where do you want to go from here?” Brown suggests. You can then work together to prioritize what’s most stressful or time-sensitive for you right now.
Also, you don’t have to take on the burden of making sure your thoughts are organized. Your therapist will guide the session. “If you stray from treatment goals, your therapist will guide you back toward them by asking questions that are aligned with those goals,” says Nicole Bentley, L.C.S.W. She’s a licensed therapist and senior director of intake services and clinical operations at Cityscape Counseling in Chicago.
Therapy tip #4: Go at your own pace
Some people find it easy to share with a therapist. For others, it takes a while to warm up. There’s no right or wrong. If you’re slow to reveal things about yourself, know that you’re not wasting your time.
“This is something that may change over time naturally as trust and safety are built,” says Michelle Hunt, M.H.C.-L.P. She’s a licensed mental health counselor with Empower Your Mind Therapy in New York City. You can also be open with your therapist about this being a sticky spot for you. They can work with you to help you feel safe when confronting overwhelming emotions.
Therapy tip #5: Go ahead and say it
You may worry about being judged if you expose your true feelings or something that happened in the past. But therapy is a safe space for honesty.
“If you feel nervous to bring something up in therapy or are wondering if you should mention something, the answer is always yes, bring it up,” Bentley says.
To get the conversation started, ask your therapist if you can email them in between sessions with a few topics to put on the agenda for next time, she advises. “You can get it out there and be held accountable when your therapist checks in.”
You can also come right out and say what’s on your mind at the start of the session, rather than letting it stew and being distracted by the “big thing” you want to talk about.
“A therapist might ask, ‘So how was your week?’ or ‘How are you doing?’” Bentley says. “Take that opportunity to bring up a tough topic.” You can also ask a question, such as, “It’s okay for me to be honest, right?” This can give you the confirmation you need that you’re supported.
Therapy tip #6: Ask yourself…Is this working for me?
Say you’re struggling with the direction your therapy is going. Or maybe you worry that you’re not making the progress you need. Check in with your therapist to talk about what can change. No doubt that can be tough, especially when you want your therapist to like you or think you’re doing well.
“Having those hard conversations where you are struggling only builds trust in the relationship, even though there is an inclination to please your therapist,” Hunt says. “Your therapist cannot support you if you aren’t being honest with what is and what isn’t working.”
Some therapists use special tools that can help both of you gauge your overall progress. It’s an approach called measurement-based care. Learn more about how it works here.
If all of this seems like a lot to think about, well, that’s because it is. Therapy does require making a commitment to change. And healthy changes often take some effort. Here’s what’s really important to remember though: You’re already on your way.