In my nearly 14 years of experience as a therapist, I’ve had the pleasure of observing counseling clients achieve great success towards the goals they set for themselves in therapy. Conversely, I have also observed individuals drift through the therapy process without achieving progress or even dropping out when faced with changing patterns or behaviors brought up in individual therapy. I took some time to reflect on what themes were common in the experiences of individuals who were undergoing therapy with successful outcomes and noted the following patterns were helpful:
- Establish clear goals and define what outcomes you’d like to see for your therapy sessions.
People seek counseling services for a variety of reasons. Your therapist can best tailor what skills to teach you, what interventions to use in your therapy session, and assist with making progress if you know what you want to get out of your therapy experience. Be as specific as possible. Goals like “I just want to feel better” are vague and difficult to measure. What could you do more of if you felt better? What were you able to do (that you are not doing now) during a time in your life when you felt like things looked the way you wanted them to look now? Help your therapist get the clearest idea of the direction you want to go during your therapy sessions in order to achieve the best outcome.
- Take Notes (during your therapy sessions and in between sessions).
A lot can happen in the course of a counseling session and the best way to keep track of your experience is to take notes during your therapy session of themes, ideas, or strategies that resonate. It’s also a great idea to keep track of how skills or plans suggested by your professional therapist worked (or didn’t work) for further exploration in your next therapy session.
- Come to therapy sessions prepared with topics or issues that you want to discuss.
I often recommend that my clients keep a “Therapy Notebook” while seeing me so that they can jot down any thoughts or events that happen in between therapy sessions that they want to process in session. This keeps the topics of individual therapy sessions focused on how what is happening in between sessions is either helping a client reach their goals or assists with identifying roadblocks or pitfalls in the process of reaching their stated therapy goal.
- Do your homework.
Did you know that 99% of therapy happens outside of your therapy sessions? Homework for therapy can look like a variety of things… worksheets, awareness of thoughts, changes in behaviors, or strategies related to changing communication or boundaries. Whatever it is that you discuss in your therapy session as your homework for outside of the session, consider it the practical, real-world application of steps towards the change you’d like to see.
- Arrive to your therapy sessions on time and prepared.
We make time for the things that are priorities for us. Prioritizing your therapy session by arriving on time, turning your phone off, and being actively present in your therapy session will allow you to take the most away from your counseling session. Remember that when you skip counseling sessions, you are the person impacted, as this is your process.
- Communicate with your therapist.
Therapists are trained in therapeutic intervention, observing verbal and non-verbal communication, and noticing patterns. They are not, however, trained in reading minds (though that would certainly make things much easier!). Be honest with your therapist, and let them know your thoughts, reactions, and needs both during your therapy session and outside of it as well. This will help them direct the therapeutic process in the most helpful direction.
- Be accountable. Know that you get out of it what you put into it.
Therapy is a process. Change does not often occur overnight and is more like a “dimmer switch” on a light than an “on/off button”. The more work you do outside of your therapy sessions, the greater progress you will make overall. Using your therapy sessions as wisely as possible to identify challenges or obstacles in the change process will allow you progress towards your therapy goals with greater direction and confidence. I often tell clients that a therapist’s role is like that familiar tool at the dentist with the mirror at the end- we help you see things that you know are there, but from a different perspective. Remember that we, your professional counselors, are here to encourage, support and generate perspective, but in the end, it is up to you to enact the change you wish to see.
I hope that this blog is helpful in making your therapeutic process a success!
About the author: Natalie Gomes MA, LPCS, LCAS is an individual counselor in Wilmington, NC. She also offers telehealth (aka online therapy) to North Carolina residents. Is someone you love’s addiction impacting you? Call her today at (910) 216-0194 for a free telephone consultation or to schedule an intake assessment and let’s start working towards life feeling more manageable for you.