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How to get the most out of therapy: Strategies for effective sessions

How to get the most out of therapy: Strategies for effective sessions

Therapy is a great tool for self-improvement and gaining personal insight. While your clinician will act as a guide and help provide direction in sessions, there are also ways you as the client can foster growth and make sessions more effective for you.

There are many ways to get the most out of a therapy session, and because therapy is so individualized, what makes therapy more effective for one person might not be as helpful for you. Read on to learn how to improve your therapy experience.

What Am I Supposed to Get Out of Therapy?

As each person’s challenges, needs, and reasons for seeking therapy are different, each person will likely also want to get something different out of therapy. 

Generally, psychotherapy is a service that enables you to set and achieve realistic goals that help you become the most effective and regulated version of yourself. Therapy can also help you manage your various challenges and help you improve your relationships.

Additionally, psychotherapy enables you to establish healthy and easy-to-maintain routines for wellness that you can continue to engage in outside of therapy or after you are no longer a participant. 

How Long Should Someone Stay in Therapy?

Similarly, the length of time someone should remain in therapy is dependent upon their presenting problems, their individual needs, the type of therapy they are in, and the pace of the progress that they’re making towards their goals. 

Many clients start to see a reduction in symptoms after 6-8 weeks of weekly psychotherapy services and tend to report an overall increase in mood and energy levels after six months of weekly therapy. However, some therapists see the best improvement after 1-3 years, as people are complicated and there can be many challenges to work through.

Ideally, therapy ends when both the client and the therapist believe that the specified therapy goals have been met and the client is able to maintain and sustain their progress independently. 

What to Expect in Therapy Sessions

When you enter into a therapy session, you should expect that your therapist will create a warm, inviting atmosphere and prioritize making a connection with you that fosters and sustains trust. 

In your initial session, your therapist will likely ask a variety of questions to gather general information about you (e.g. physical health and mental health history) as well as your desired goals and presenting problems. Through this process, they will begin to piece together a picture of your life and holistic wellness needs. 

In following sessions, you can expect to address presenting problems, process past experiences, and learn coping and emotion regulation skills that will help you increase your levels of resiliency and decrease the intensity of your symptoms. 

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How Do I Get the Most Out of My Therapy Sessions?

One of the most important things you can do to get the most out of a therapy session is to be open and vulnerable with your therapist. You can prepare for this in many ways, such as: 

  • Taking some time to relax and focus yourself before your sessions
  • Doing a check-in prior to the session
  • Asking yourself what you’ve been feeling this week — What have you been battling? What are some successes you’ve experienced? 
  • Taking five minutes prior to the session to experience stillness and engage in contemplation 
  • Having something in mind to talk about. Write it on a notecard or in the notes app of one’s phone. 
  • Asking questions—don’t worry about insulting the therapist or interrupting the session by voicing them. 
  • If homework is given, trying to follow through with the assignment and report the results of it regardless, of how successful you are. 
  • Taking notes about things that are brought up and referring to them after the session or a day later to review.

Each of these practices can help orient your brain to the present moment and enable you to receive and retain more information. This will help sharpen your ability to focus and process things in therapy effectively.

How Can I Get the Most Out of Telehealth Sessions? 

Online sessions are, largely, very similar to in-person therapy sessions, which means you can get the most out of your telehealth sessions using the same mindfulness approaches and routines listed above. Take a deep breath, give yourself a few minutes to log on, and orient yourself to the therapeutic environment before it starts. 

It’s also encouraged for clients to find a closed-off, private room where they can be alone and minimize distractions. This, again, allows clients to focus, be in the present moment, and retain more information. 

Clients may also designate a specific telehealth area in their home or wherever they take calls. This can train the brain to associate this space with therapy and can increase focus and relaxation. Make it comfortable, calming, and familiar so that it’s a relaxing and uplifting environment for therapy.

How Can I Get the Most Out of Therapy When My Therapist Wants to Lead the Way?

When your therapist takes the lead in sessions, getting the most out of therapy will depend on whether this is an approach that works for you or not. If your therapist wants to lead the way during your therapy sessions and you find that this is not the most helpful approach for you, it’s okay, even encouraged, for you to speak up. 

While it’s important to share directionality and goals with your therapist, it’s also important to make sure your voice is heard. A therapist who fosters trust between client and therapist will listen to your self-advocacy and engage with you to help you explore your thoughts and feelings on their therapy modalities. 

A therapeutic relationship is one of the most important factors in your therapeutic experience, and it is meant to be bidirectional. This means that sessions should involve conversation and comments from both parties — not just the client listening to the clinician. Having a good relationship with your therapist is one of the best ways to ensure you get the most out of therapy.

How Can I Get the Most Out of Therapy for ADHD/BPD/OCD?

One of the best ways to get the most out of your therapy sessions when you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition is to do some reflection and processing work outside of therapy and pay attention to your symptoms. Ask yourself: How are my symptoms affecting my life? In which areas of my life do I feel most impaired?

This can help streamline your therapy sessions and provide continued directionality, allowing you to address the most pressing issues while also promoting personal accountability and awareness. 

How Can You Maximize the Benefits of Therapy?

To maximize the benefits of therapy, it’s important to remain truly open to receiving both positive and negative feedback. 

Therapy can be a largely positive experience, but it is also transformative, and transformation is not always a wholly positive experience. Therapy is, first and foremost, about you and your emotional experience, so being vulnerable and open to change is key to therapeutic work.

Growth is uncomfortable at times, and that discomfort is necessary. Make sure to do your homework and follow up on recommendations your therapist makes. Do some reading on the side to continue to elevate your knowledge on your mental conditions, self-awareness, and ways that you can take direction to promote your own mental health.

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  • Editorial writer
  • Clinical reviewer
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Alexandra “Alex” Cromer is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who has 4 years of experience partnering with adults, families, adolescents, and couples seeking help with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and trauma-related disorders.

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Evan Csir is a Licensed Professional Counselor with over 9 years of experience. He is passionate about working with people, especially autistic individuals and is experienced in helping clients with depression, anxiety, and ADHD issues.

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Hannah DeWittMental Health Writer

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

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The information on this page is not intended to replace assistance, diagnosis, or treatment from a clinical or medical professional. Readers are urged to seek professional help if they are struggling with a mental health condition or another health concern.

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