What is therapy? Part 5
How do I get the most out of therapy?
As with most things in life, the more you put in, the more you will get out. In therapy, this refers to how often you attend, how engaged you are during the sessions, and then how hard you work on the issues that brought you to therapy between the sessions. The time you spend with your therapist is important and can provide a large part of what you need, but you will probably discover that being in therapy often means thinking about things in new ways for much of the time, including between the sessions.
The two most important things you can do to get the most out of therapy are: 1. be open with your therapist, and 2. attend the sessions. Being open is something many of us find more difficult than we would like. Even people who seem to be publicly open about the most personal things are often quite reluctant to talk about a host of ordinary things that would surprise you. A significant part of many therapies is having the opportunity to share things with another human being that you would find difficult to tell your closest loved ones. This can be for a whole range of reasons, but shame and embarrassment are the most common. Openness is a quality best worked towards gradually. Blurting out all your secrets can be counterproductive since it might leave you feeling terrible, and this approach probably won't change much. Change comes from getting to a place where you trust your therapist enough to risk telling them. Repeatedly discovering that they aren't driven away is transformative and can alter how you start to relate to yourself. In instances where it's just too difficult to be open, the best strategy is to be open about why it's too difficult. That way you are starting to understand what holds you back, while letting your therapist know that there is more and that you will get there in due course. Attendance is also very important. You aren't in therapy if you aren't in the room as agreed. This may seem an obvious point, but it is a frequent stumbling block to true progress. This is quite understandable: therapy can be painful at times and often involves confronting things that you might be trying to avoid. Attending regularly is the best way forward because it allows you to develop trust more easily, it prevents your session time from being hijacked by the need to update your therapist on recent news, and it helps you build momentum and pick up from where you left off. When you find yourself not wanting to go to a session, try to reflect on why. Could it be that the last one was hard? Did you leave a little angry with the therapist, or is there something you know you need to talk about but don't want to? These are all good things to work through together with your therapist. Remember: frequency, regularity and continuity are required to achieve depth. You should also know that attending therapy, while most definitely a valuable and positive step, is not enough to lead to a healthy and reasonably happy life by itself. You will still need to work towards having the basics in place. These include eating properly, staying fit, socialising, keeping intimate, loving relationships, participating in productive activities, resting, having sex, taking the time to play, etc. etc. etc. Of course, it might be because you are unable to do these things that you are in therapy; unfortunately, the one doesn't replace the need for the other. Try to take as much control of your therapeutic process as possible. For example, if someone plans to help you pay the account, still have the account sent to you and arrange for the money to be paid through you to the therapist. Similarly, do call your therapist yourself if you need to cancel, move a session or find yourself in crisis. Therapies that are carried out in this way are more successful because the patient practices taking responsibility, and the therapy is less likely to be hijacked or seem as though another person (e.g. Dad) is pushing the agenda.