Find the Right Therapist for You – The most important part of therapy is the relationship between you and your counselor. Researching various counselors’ credentials, training and experience is very important, but even more important is finding a person you feel super comfortable with. Do you sense that your therapist has your best interest at heart? Do you feel you could be totally honest – even with difficult issues – and that your counselor would be able to provide a safe, non-judgmental space for you? Do you feel like your therapist gets you?
Your Healing is Your Responsibility – Your counselor’s job is to get to know the real you. It is her job to help you see new options that you may not have considered before. It is her job to point out where you may not be seeing the fullness of your Truth. It is her job to help you discover how to release pain. It is your counselor’s job to make suggestions for growth.
It is not your counselor’s job to read your mind. It is not her job to decide the direction of your treatment. It is not her job to fix anything for you. A psychotherapists’ job is to help you find your own inner answers.
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Get Specific About Your Issues – Name them. Get real clear. Don’t expect your therapist to figure it all out for you. Ask for her help to narrow down to the core of things. If you can name it – you can fix it. If you can’t name it – you still have more work to do.
Therapy is Hard Work – Psychotherapy is about learning it’s safe to tell ourselves the Truth. It’s about discovering where we may have been lying to ourselves (where society has lied to us, where our parents have lied to us, where religion has lied to us, etc…). A client can choose to resist this process of telling the truth, looking at it as painful and scary, or he can open and hold it as a brave adventurer would. It is your choice how you look at the process of unfolding, however, most would say that it is far easier and less painful to take the latter stance.
Why would anyone choose to embark on such a journey? The answer is that when we take the veils of darkness away to reveal the honest truth beneath, it sets us FREE. We realize we are safe to be real. Release, relief, and a new sense of space and hope emerge. We have more options. We have more room to live and more joy.
Tell your Therapist Everything – Psychotherapists are well trained professionals, but they are usually not psychic. They cannot know what you do not share with them. The more honest you can be with yourself and with your therapist, the more transformational change you will attain.
Banish the Old Myth that Being in Psychotherapy Means there’s Something Wrong with You – Today’s psychotherapy is an act of self-nurturing. Being in therapy means you care about your emotional health. Telling the world you have a therapist is no longer a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of enlightenment. Smart people engage in regular counseling for the support they need, and to facilitate their personal growth.
Be Willing to Come Prepared – Psychotherapy should extend beyond the therapy session. Use your time throughout the rest of your week to notice your behaviors, your thoughts and your reactions to things. Make notes. Write down your dreams. Bring those in. Bring your questions in. The more work you do outside the therapy room, the faster and richer your personal growth will be.
Focus on Problem-Solving and Opening the Mind Rather Than on Ruminating – As a part of the human family, It is important to tell your story. It is important that someone hears it. It is important to move through all of the components of your belief systems in relationship to your story. But we must be careful because there is a difference between “working with our history” and “ruminating”. Sometimes an attachment to the story can develop. We may be in danger of defining ourselves with our story. At some point, it becomes important to take a leap of faith and to move into another mode – a mode of healing. We do this by remaining open to problem-solving and expanding our minds with new ideas and new options.
Make a Commitment to Your Treatment – Counseling is a big investment into YOU. You’re investing a lot of energy, focus, time and money here. Be willing to give it your all. Counseling should not be a casual endeavor. Now is your opportunity to really do some intensive personal growth!
Make Therapy Part of Your Life – Many people find that counseling is so helpful and stress-relieving that they continue therapy for the long-term. Some folks take breaks from counseling and then come back during periods of their life when they may need more support. Other folks come to regular weekly sessions for years and years. This is not uncommon. We are social animals and do need support, conversation and human interaction. We are wired for connection. Where else can we have an hour of undivided, non-judgmental attention paid only to us? Long term therapy is often seen as a part of a person’s ongoing self-care regimen.
See your Therapist like your Best Friend – Back in the old days of psychoanalysis, the therapist was not supposed to have feelings for the client, and vice versa. The idea was that the therapist should maintain a completely neutral position about and for the client in order for therapeutic change to occur. Nowadays, the field of psychology sees things differently. The therapeutic relationship works at its best when both client and counselor feel a bond, a trust, a connection with each other. It’s common to view one’s counselor as a friend (sometimes she is a better friend than other people in the client’s life!) It’s also wonderful for the counselor to view her client as a friend. Getting together outside the therapy office is generally not done unless it is to attend a healing workshop or other therapeutic event together. And romantic relationships are strictly off limits.
Ask Lots of Questions – The more questions you can come up with, the better. Asking questions is how we learn new things. Counseling is a combination of discussion and experiencing. The conversation can be as rich and lively as you make it! It’s up to you.
Keep Re-Defining Your Goals – Don’t ever assume that your therapist has a grand plan for your healing journey. That’s not the way it works. You are in charge of setting your goals, bringing your hopes, needs and intentions to your therapist, and then being willing to open to new ideas within the session around those areas of your life. Re-assess your progress and your needs often, and be proactive in communicating them!
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Have Positive and Realistic Expectations – Therapy isn’t magic. But you are. Within you is the capacity to heal every area of your life. Using a great therapist to help get you pointed in the right direction and to ask you challenging questions can be an excellent way to jumpstart the healing you seek. Research shows that the main factor leading to personal change is one’s willingness to take a good hard look at oneself. In other words, therapy outcomes are almost entirely based on the client’s readiness – not so much the talent of the therapist. The therapist plays a supporting role, while you are the star, the director, and the producer.
Focus on Changing Yourself – Not Anyone Else – Your therapy is to help YOU change. It’s a good place to change our thoughts, our belief systems, our perceptions and our behaviors. It’s not a place to focus on changing others.
The Therapeutic Relationship is a Real Relationship – Trust that your therapist genuinely cares about you and wants to know you. Counseling is so much more than a job to the human being that take on the vocation. Counseling is a “calling” to serve, to love, to connect and to know another person for the purpose of healing.
It’s ok to get upset with your therapist. She’s human. She may sometimes misunderstand you, be mis-attuned, or be having an off-day. If you have a strong feeling come up in therapy, PRACTICE COMMUNICATING IT. If your therapist is good, she’ll drop right into compassionate listening mode without reacting. Trust your therapist to hold you in all of your feelings – even the ones you have toward her. She has been trained to use even your relationship with her as a mode for healing and re-educating old relational patterns. If direct confrontation is too scary, have a conversation with your therapist about this idea before any triggers occur.
Be Open to FUN and Laughter – Therapy works best when the intensity is occasionally interspersed with laughter. The fact is our brains need to take short breaks in order to integrate the material we’ve been working on. When interrupting an intense moment with inappropriate joking occurs, it may indicate an attempt to distract – that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about allowing moments of joy, fun and laughing to come in and out of the session time you spend with your therapist. It’s healthy!
Be Patient – Change takes time – A broken bone doesn’t heal in 24 hours. It takes a careful reset, a protective cast, and 6-8 weeks to mend. Similarly, personal change requires a willingness to shift our thinking, to provide ourselves with the necessary protections from outer stressors which may threaten to thwart the changes we are working so hard to make, and time to integrate it all into a new way of living.
Write It Down – Journaling is highly recommended. Make time to write down your dreams when you wake up. Make time to journal before bed. Whatever time of day feels most introspective for you – take that time for yourself. Bring your notes into your therapy session from the previous week. A lot can happen in a week!
Use Your Week for Personal Work Between Sessions – Make therapy a daily way of life. Incorporate self-inquiry into your daily mental process. Question your automatic responses, your behaviors, and your ideas. Ask yourself, “What would my therapist do, say, think, ask right now?” It’s a great practice to imagine taking your therapist with you into the world! Using your time outside of session for continued personal work will speed and enrich your healing process.
Realize That Progress Doesn’t Happen In A Straight Line – Like growing 3 inches in the 7th grade, inner growth occurs in spurts. Therapy generally begins with a get-to-know-you period of several sessions. Then the work intensifies for a while. It can be punctuated with small or large insights and “AHA! Moments”, and then short latent or resting phases may follow. We may hit roadblocks. Sometimes we may even feel like we are going backwards in our progress. We are not. All movement is forward movement- even places that feel like roadblocks are just places to learn more about oneself. All of these states are normal rhythms of the healing process.
If you’re committed to rigorous self-honesty, you can accomplish anything you want.
Have fun with your therapy!
After all – this may be the greatest gift you ever give to yourself.
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