Why do people GO to therapy?
Generally, people begin because they are suffering. They are experiencing emotional distress and would like some help with it. Often, though, once people start, they learn that therapy is a productive way to learn a lot about yourself. The more you know yourself, know your thinking, feeling and behaviour patterns, know your emotional stuck points and your hot buttons, the more freedom you have in your life. If I don’t know about my tendencies, about my defenses, about my patterns, then I am doomed to keep repeating and repeating them. It is only through self-knowledge that I have any chance at all for creating a new life for myself.
You could argue that you don’t need a therapist to develop self awareness, and I would agree. In fact, there would be no argument there! But for many of us, we have a pattern of isolation and independence (“I can do this myself…I don’t need any help!”) that can lead to a lack of intimacy in relationships, or can be related to problems trusting other people. Sometimes allowing ourselves to accept the support and the disinterested perspective of a therapist is a way to break out of a pattern in itself.
But suppose you have decided to start therapy. What can you do to make the most of the experience? Therapy isn’t like medicine; you don’t just go for the hour every week and wait for it to work. The more actively you involve yourself in your therapy, the more you’ll get from it.
Usually therapy helps you to see things in a different light. This can be because of the experience of relating to another person in a different way, or because of hearing yourself say something in the presence of a caring other, or because of other experiential processes that happen during the therapy hour. You can extend this shift by continuing to “process” during the week or weeks between sessions. The following suggestions might be helpful to you.
- Reflect on your session. What have you heard or seen or done that was different for you? Are there ways that you can bring this difference into your everyday life? Even if you are not ready to make such a change, can you think about what it might be like if you were ready to do this?
- Work on body awareness.
- Several times each day, take a moment to “check in” with your body. Notice your energy level, your body sensations, any “felt sense” that arises in your awareness. Notice any thoughts that are persisting.
- Use body movement to help you identify what’s going on in your body. Try grounding exercises, or alternating vigorous movement with stillness to just see what’s up right now.
- Journaling. Handwrite about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Do this without allowing your inner editor to have a voice. Just write. This is for you, not for anyone else.
- Process emotional material. When you have an emotional response to something, take time to notice it, notice what you do with that response, and watch the consequences. What was actually happening? What can you know about how you felt, what you did or said? Would you like to be able to think, feel, or behave differently in the future?
- Accept that you are a work in progress, and so is everyone else. See how close you can get to accepting things as they are, including other people just as they are, and yourself, just as you are. Acceptance isn’t condoning and it also isn’t necessarily forgiveness, but it is a step that can allow you to relax into reality rather than struggling in resistance.
So…that’s a short list of some ways that you can get your money’s worth out of therapy. What other tips do you have?