If you are already in counseling, or you are considering working with a psychologist or therapist, four tips will help maximize your therapy process:
1. Take personal responsibility.
On the one hand, counseling is a perfectly appropriate place to “vent” about your boss, your spouse, etc. On the other hand, you don’t want to get trapped in victim mode. While it’s helpful for your therapist to hear about your frustrations with your boss or your spouse, your therapist can’t change these people. For that matter, your therapist can’t change you. That’s up to you. Your psychologist or counselor can provide you with the tools to make powerful life changes, but you are the only person who can put those tools into daily action.
2. Speak freely.
Some clients approach the therapy process as if it’s an interview rather than a conversation. They rely on the therapist to “pull out” relevant information and issues. The counseling process is most effective when the client provides the talking energy. What do you talk about? Anything that’s on your mind. Therapy isn’t a typical social interaction, so there are really no off limit topics. Your sex life, your favorite TV show, politics, your 7th grade science fair project–anything that comes to mind during session, for whatever reason, is worth exploring. Trying too hard to “get it right” during therapy sessions can hold you back. Your job is simply to show up, to speak freely, and see where the counseling process leads you.
3. Do your homework.
Psychologists and counselors assign homework to varying degrees. Maybe you’ll be asked to journal or read a book. Maybe you’ll be encouraged to meditate or list your life goals. Maybe you’ll simply be guided to actively think about certain things between sessions. Your counseling sessions are a focal point, but how you apply yourself outside the therapy room is equally essential. Therapy homework helps you better define your issues, breaking down your life goals into manageable concrete steps. If you find yourself avoiding, forgetting or simply not prioritizing your homework, don’t worry. Therapy isn’t school. You won’t “get in trouble.” Simply share your motivational challenges with your therapist and he or she can help you troubleshoot.
4. Stay open.
Sometimes people come to therapy with a clear, preconceived idea about their issues. They may feel they have a drinking problem, a cheating problem, a career issue, a social anxiety issue, etc., etc. This is a great place to start. However, part of what makes the counseling process effective is the open-ended nature of the work. Resolving your drinking problem, for example, may be as much about resolving unfinished business with your family as it is learning strategies to drink less. The willingness to openly explore various aspects of your life–even, or especially, those that seem unrelated to your presenting issue–can be profoundly beneficial to personal growth.