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I am in therapy or thinking of starting, how can I ensure that I have a successful therapy experience?
You may think the challenging part of therapy is finding a good fit therapist and that once that’s over, you’re on easy street. Unfortunately, like most meaningful things in life, therapy is not that simple.
It’s completely normal to have multiple hiccups along the therapy journey and that does not mean you are doing something wrong. Relationships are complicated. Confronting parts of ourselves that have been brushed under the rug is not always fun and games.
In this short article, I am going to outline 5 tips based on the most common ways therapy clients sabotage their therapy. Now, I know sabotage has a self-inflicted connotation attached to it. But in all honesty, I don’t think clients purposely sabotage therapy. I truly believe that in many cases it’s a matter of ignorance. Hence, I am here to dispel some myths and armor you with some truths.
Knowledge is potential power.
Once you have this knowledge and apply it to your situation you are in a most powerful position.
Ready. Set. Go.
So, as a therapy client what do I need to know in order to have a successful therapy experience?
1. You do not need to love your therapist in order to have a successful therapy experience.
When I say love, I mean really like… You actually DON’T need to really like or love your therapist in order for therapy to be successful. Many people do love their therapists at some point and many people don’t and that’s just fine.
Your therapist can do things that annoy you and you can still be helped through the process. You can dread your sessions from time to time and that does not mean you should jump ship.
Loving your therapist is NOT a prerequisite to successful therapy.
Just like loving your personal trainer is not a prerequisite to building muscle definition and meeting your fitness goals.
Wherever you are in your therapy journey, please take some pressure off of yourself and the therapeutic process and let good be good enough.
2. You need to respect your therapist in order to have a successful therapy experience.
You need to respect your therapist (on some level).
Well then, what does respect mean?
Respect means valuing your therapist’s thought processes on most occasions. Respect means appreciating their knowledge & experience in the space with which you are seeking their assistance. Respect means a willingness to consider the insights, skills, and tools they shared with you as you live out your life in between sessions.⠀
Respect does NOT mean approving of whatever you do or don’t know about their personal life. Respect does NOT mean agreeing with every insight, comment, or thought shared by your therapist. Respect does not mean approving of their political opinions.
Remember: for a successful therapy experience, love is not necessary but respect is. ⠀
3. You must participate in your therapy in order to have a successful therapy experience.
Therapy is much more than a transactional arrangement in which I pay you = I get helped.⠀
The exchange of money for sessions is a less significant investment than the effort you need to invest in order to see positive results.⠀
What does participation entail?
The answer will differ depending on your therapist and the modalities they employ. Therefore, as a responsible client, you want to ask the following at one of your first encounters with your therapist:⠀
What will be required of me? ⠀
What is my role in this arrangement? ⠀
Will I have homework? ⠀
How often would you suggest I attend sessions? ⠀
What kind of work do I engage in, in session? ⠀
First, you need to know what kind of participation will be required of you and then you need to commit to participating. ⠀
If it’s weekly, it means you show up on time and don’t cancel. If there’s homework, you actually do it. If you need to share difficult thoughts and feelings you share them in whichever manner you can tolerate best.⠀
Showing up for therapy with your phone alerts on, speaking about the weather, other minutiae, and explaining why you didn’t do your ‘homework’ is a great way to ensure therapy moves your bank balance without moving you.⠀
So let’s review: To participate in therapy…⠀
Step 1: Find out what kind of participation is required⠀
Step 2: Commit to comply⠀
Step 3: Appreciate the results⠀
It’s that simple or that difficult. ⠀
4. You must choose to challenge yourself if you want to have a successful therapy experience.
Challenges are a part of life. In life, sometimes we get to choose our challenges and sometimes they choose us. Embarking on a therapy journey is one circumstance in which we get to choose our challenge. This is because therapy done right is synonymous with challenging ourselves.⠀
Therapy requires us to confront parts of ourselves we never acknowledged. It requires us to give voice to the parts of ourselves we silenced. It requires us to open more than one ‘can of worms’ and sit with the discomfort we “self-inflicted”. ⠀
The beauty in all this?⠀
By choosing to challenge ourselves in this way we strengthen our core so that we are able to withstand and even flourish when future challenges inevitably choose us.
Side note: When I use the lingo “therapy requires…” This does not mean that we passively show up and therapy will do this to us. Rather, by choosing therapy we actively show up and choose to initiate challenging ourselves in the safety of the therapeutic relationship. Notice the difference? I hope so ?
5. You are allowed to challenge your therapist. It will actually help your therapy be successful.
While you may have felt crushed to read how your therapy success depends on your ability to challenge yourself, this tip may bring you a sigh of relief. Equally important as challenging yourself, is the notion that as a client you are allowed to challenge your therapist.
What does challenging your therapist mean?
It means that if you have questions, you ask. If something doesn’t feel right for you, you acknowledge it. If you think there’s a way that would be better for you, you give voice to it.
Remember: you are the expert in your life while your therapist is the expert in their life.
Don’t assume that your therapist is all-knowing or perfect.
They can make mistakes just like you and me and can handle being challenged in a respectful manner just like you and me.
So while you may need to bite your tongue in other relationships, in the therapeutic one you can and should practice challenging another human respectfully. This practice may be one of the most beneficial things you gain in the therapeutic relationship, so don’t let this permission slip lay dormant.
That sums up the 5 tips.
Final note: This article is not intended to be all-inclusive for everything one should, could, or would need to know as a therapy client. I created these 5 tips based on the common ways clients tend to trip up on their therapeutic journey. My hope is that having these disclaimers slash tips will prevent a therapy lapse or assist you in juming back on the bandwagon if you’ve fallen off.
Rooting for you, always!