Recent research shows that more than a fifth of the adult population in the United States — that’s more than 50 million Americans — were living with a mental health condition. Incredibly, more than half of them — 54.7% — never receive care. It doesn’t have to be this way — a therapy session can be a key component to managing mental health.
Counseling and therapy require an investment in time, effort, energy, and money. There are many benefits of therapy, but only if you work to get the most out of it. Therapy can be a powerful tool that helps you work through complex issues as long as you understand what makes it effective. Maximizing your sessions and using available resources will ensure you receive the best possible care and know how to make the most out of therapy — but how do you do that?
Continue reading as we explore 15 therapist-approved tips for anyone hoping to learn how to get the most out of therapy.
Individual therapy can be incredibly empowering in helping you manage your mental health. Therapy sessions help you gain insight into your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors so you can make positive changes in your life. It’s generally not “easy,” but there are ways you can ensure you’re getting as much as possible out of the process.
The following are 15 therapist-approved tips for ensuring you’re getting the most out of therapy and reaping every session’s benefits. Follow them, and you’ll likely see faster progress and the benefits of your hard work. Healing isn’t always simple, and it takes work, but it can improve your life — and you deserve that, especially after putting time and energy into each session.
1. Define what you want to get out of sessions
Before beginning any type of therapy, whether it’s cognitive therapy or family therapy, it’s crucial to know what you hope to gain from the process. So, before your first therapy session, consider why you’re seeking help and what goals you’d like to accomplish. This will give you — and your therapist — a clear direction on how best to proceed with treatment, making the therapeutic relationship stronger. Your therapy goals can (often should) change over time.
2. Take care of housekeeping first
At the beginning of each session, some paperwork or administrative tasks might need to be completed. Before diving into the work, take care of billing, sign new forms, and update any insurance information. Making sure these steps are taken care of at the beginning of your counseling session means you can spend the majority of your time really doing the work that matters.
3. Attend willing
Therapy sessions require effort from both parties, so make sure you come prepared each session, ready, and willing to do the work necessary to make progress. This could include being open-minded, honest, patient, or reflective.
Your potential therapist will be doing their part by offering you guidance along the way. Ultimately, though, it’s up to you to take responsibility for making life changes where needed.
4. Stay focused on you
During sessions, try to focus only a little energy on things outside your control. This could mean avoiding discussing other people’s problems or refraining from giving advice (unless asked). Instead, use this time as an opportunity to self-reflect as you explore your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which might contribute to whatever issue brought you into therapy in the first place.
5. Be open and vulnerable
Learning how to get the most out of therapy means allowing meaningful change. To achieve this, you must feel safe enough to share personal experiences without fear of judgment.
“While it might seem obvious, my top tip to get the most out of therapy is to be honest and upfront. This can be hard at first since therapy can be awkward at the beginning as you get to know your therapist but remember this is your space and your therapist is there to help you reach your goals and provide support. Therapists can do their best work when you are able to share your most authentic self – we have heard it all and want to help.”
Being honest and authentic will let you explore issues hidden beneath surface-level discussions.
6. Be real with your expectations
Unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment and discouragement if results aren’t seen immediately. Remembering that the healing process takes time will help you keep a realistic outlook throughout treatment.
7. Take notes
Taking notes during sessions is one way to stay focused on topics discussed. It can also provide you with something tangible for future reference. Jotting down important points and things that resonate during your work helps you get the most out of your treatment. Feel free to ask questions to your therapist as well.
8. Do your homework between sessions
A good therapist often gives therapy homework assignments to reinforce themes, habits, actions, and reactions worked on and discussed during sessions. Completing your homework will help you practice the skills you’ve worked hard to learn. It’s a sign of your commitment and dedication to the process, ultimately increasing your therapy relationship.
9. Don’t underestimate the power of self-care
Never underestimate the power of self-care. Taking care of yourself is critical to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and balancing stress. This can be especially true while in therapy. Examples of self-care might include:
Eating nutritious meals
Engaging in hobbies
Spending quality time with friends and family
Keeping a healthy sleep habit
10. Be kind to yourself
Acknowledge mistakes you’ve made without berating or punishing yourself. Instead, move forward with a positive growth mindset rather than beating yourself down with negativity and unhealthy thinking patterns.
11. Be patient and trust the process
Like anything that takes work, individual therapy takes time. So be patient if you’ve found a potential therapist you trust and can connect with. Healing won’t happen overnight, but you will see the results if you keep putting in the work.
Keep in mind just how critical patience is to your success. That success isn’t always going to be linear. Often it will require revisiting topics multiple times, but the payoff is worth the effort and time.
12. Give yourself credit
Talking about the success you achieve is just as important as talking about the challenges you face. It encourages you to continue pushing forward, despite any occasional setbacks you encounter along the way.
13. Ask for support
Having a solid network of people around you who are willing to listen or offer advice is an invaluable resource. It can be especially beneficial during times when you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure of your next steps.
14. Be consistent
Regularly attending scheduled appointments ensures continuity throughout treatment. In turn, this allows for more significant progress overall. Whether face-to-face or via video chat, consistent sessions help build trust between you and your therapist. Thus, deeper levels of conversation and insight can potentially lead to lasting results long after completing treatment.
15. Enjoy the process
Last but certainly not least, an essential part of learning how to make the most out of therapy is simply enjoying the process. The opportunity to talk openly and express your feelings freely is already a big step in the right direction. Remember to appreciate the small victories you accomplish every day, knowing that eventually, everything else will likely fall into place.
If you can’t afford therapy, Talkspace offers convenient and affordable mental health care access. With Talkspace, you can connect with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your own home. Whether you need help managing stress or anxiety, improving relationships, dealing with depression, or working through anything else, Talkspace has a team of experienced mental health care professionals and therapists ready to provide support.
With Talkspace, you’ll understand how to get the most out of the therapy process. You can make real progress and start feeling better today — you just have to take that first step.
The state of Mental Health in America. Mental Health America. https://mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america. Accessed December 10, 2022.