We all know therapy is a valuable tool for healing, but it can be scary and hard. While I’m not a professional, there’s some tips I learned about how to get the best out of therapy that really helped me. I’ve shared them below in the hopes they can help others too!
I hated the idea of therapy when I first went as a teen. It made me feel like I was weak and I didn’t understand why seeking help was important. At that time I was angry at everything, and I took the suggestion of help as a personal attack.
I got in my own way of healing with self destructive behaviours before I learned to shift my mindset, but eventually I realised therapy could only help me if I allowed it.
I was determined to not need help, and not gain anything from it, which obviously is a stupid plan. I’m pleased to say I’ve come a long way from that toxic mindset!
It took me much longer than it should have, but eventually I learned how to get the best out of therapy which is when my healing really started, and I want to share my 6 best tips with you.
1. Be honest
In the beginning, the idea of being honest made me physically cringe. Honestly, it still does to an extent. Not because I’m a liar, but because being honest requires true vulnerability. This is hard if you’ve had it reinforced that you can’t trust people!
As hard as it is, honesty is essential to get the most out of therapy. I realised that a therapist can only help you with what you present to them. I would get frustrated that they couldn’t help me, until I realised how could I expect genuine help if I wasn’t telling them my genuine issues?
You don’t have to blurt out everything in one go. Start small and build from there, but aim to be honest and open. Don’t be afraid of judgement, therapists are there to help. To make being honest easier, make sure you find a therapist you are comfortable with!
2. Ask for what you need
I resisted this at first because it meant admitting I needed something I couldn’t give myself. I felt like it was a sign of weakness.
Of course all I was doing was obstructing my own mental wellness which did me no favours and created a self fulfilling prophecy of not being helped!
Ask yourself what you hope to gain from therapy. Do you just want a safe place to vent emotions? Are you looking for coping strategies for anxiety?
Therapists are wonderful at giving you tools, but they need to know what tools you need. For example if you want some coping mechanisms to help you with anxiety, but only talk to them about something else, you’re not going to get what you need.
3. Be open minded
A therapist might give you a task that sounds ridiculous. You might not want to do it, or even see them again because you see it as pointless!
Therapy requires an open mind. Resolve to at least try the things they suggest. Countless times I’ve been given something to try that I initially outright refused, then realised they were actually helpful. A great example of that for me, is journaling. I thought it sounded pointless, until I gave it a good faith try, now they make up a big part of my mental health management! You can find a review of the guided journals I use here.
They may seem like strange unorthodox methods, but remember that’s what a therapist is there for, to give you new tools to use. They’ve studied to learn methods that can produce results, they may not all work for you but you should at least try!
Even things that don’t work for you are helpful for narrowing down what you do need. Everything they give you is just one more tool in your toolbox of coping mechanisms.
4. Be prepared to give it time and effort
Healing is not quick, and it’s not easy. Sorry to all of you who were like me as a teen who thought I would be magically ‘better’. Unfortunately it turns out finding happiness isn’t an overnight thing!
Healing takes time and effort. Just because a therapy session comes to an end, does not mean the work towards healing does. Be prepared to implement the tools they’ve given you, and work at your mindset every single day.
Don’t feel impatient or downtrodden because it takes a while to see results. Usually therapy comes after years of trauma or other issues, don’t put pressure on yourself to undo it all immediately! I felt like a failure because I didn’t immediately see results and it took me a long time to realise I was being unrealistic.
I’ve seen different counsellors and therapists all throughout my life and I’m still learning and healing, and probably always will be! That’s ok, it’s normal. Trust the process and be patient with yourself.
5. Take a trusted person
I know not everyone will have the privilege of having a trusted person, but if you do, take them with you, even if just for initial appointments.
When I was a teen I had one adult (and still do!) who I trusted with everything, and who eventually convinced me to get help. I was really struggling with being honest with my therapist, so I brought that person along to talk for me.
I had appointments where I couldn’t even bring myself to speak, and that person would talk to them for me. Not only did this take the pressure off me speaking, but it forced honesty, which allowed the therapist to actually help me.
I would say I was fine as a reflex, and that person would jump in and give them the truth of how I had been travelling mentally. This was an absolutely invaluable help, and I’m sure the therapist appreciated it too!
6. Be prepared for emotional exhaustion
I feel like not enough people talk about how truly emotionally taxing a solid therapy session can be, especially in the first few sessions! That exhaustion isn’t bad or a sign of weakness, it’s just how healing begins.
A therapy session might make you feel a bit fragile and that’s totally normal. Carve out some time after your sessions for you, and do what you need to do, whether it’s curling up with a movie or debriefing with someone.
Regardless of how you choose to handle it, know that that emotional exhaustion is ok, and you deserve the time you need to process.
If you’re here and just starting your therapy journey, I am proud of you. Taking that first step is enormously hard. It took me years and a lot of nudging to finally accept that I needed help.
It felt useless at the start, because I didn’t know how to get the best out of therapy. Once I started allowing it to help me, my mental health improved by leaps and bounds.
Of course it wasn’t easy or straightforward! I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it’s all up from here. There were many, many times that I would be going well, then hit a bad patch and beat myself up for it for not getting better.
At times it felt like 2 steps forward and one step back, and it felt incredibly frustrating!
It took me many more years to learn that those relapses were (and are!) a totally normal part of healing, regardless of how bad it feels. I still have bad days or bad weeks, the difference now, is that I know it’s temporary, and I have the tools to get me through it.
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