By Janie L. Feldman, Psy.D.
As a psychologist with over twenty years’ experience in private practice, I have learned to recognize when new clients will do well and when others might struggle to grow past their challenges. Successful outcomes in therapy typically have much more to do with an individual’s attitude than an individual’s challenges. Bringing a hopeful outlook, open mind and trust in the therapy process are three critical features of positive results. There are other factors that will facilitate success in therapy.
Decide what you want to get out of therapy. For therapy to be most beneficial, it really helps the therapeutic process off to a great start when new clients know specifically what they seek. For example, wanting to feel better might sound like a good goal, but improving confidence is a more specific goal that will lead to more efficient treatment. At the same time, if you’re uncertain as to what’s getting your way, you would be wise to seek help to gain insight into what’s happening in your life. Goals for therapy are easier to achieve when you are specific as possible as to what you seek, even if a goal is to improve your insight and self-awareness.
Interview 2-3 psychologists to find the best professional to meet your needs. Achieving results in psychotherapy begins with finding a psychologist who can understand you and your situation. Finding the best psychologist to meet your needs happens when you look for referrals from friends, physicians, or other specialists who are familiar with some psychologists. Interview a few psychologists on the phone before arranging your first session; this will insure a ‘good fit’ will exist between you. While insurance companies typically offer lists of in-network providers, such lists might serve as a starting point. You will be more successful to speak with a few psychologists to get a sense which one might understand you best and be able to work with you toward meeting your goals.
Arrive on time and ready to get to work. Starting psychotherapy can be a very difficult step to take, especially for the first time. Be prepared for your first visit by reading your psychologist’s website (if available), or reading about what to expect from therapy. Bring questions you might have, such as what you can expect while working with this psychologist, or what role will your psychologist have during your therapy together. Make therapy your priority each week by keeping your regularly scheduled sessions. Confirm your goals with your psychologist to insure you agree about what matters most in your therapy.
Be open to ideas that are new to you, or seem unlikely to work at first glance. Therapy is a journey where you occupy the driver’s seat, but the road might have turns and bumps you might not anticipate. Understand that in order to make progress, you might leave a session feeling puzzled, or might experience some distress as you work through uncomfortable or emotional material. Be sure to share your concerns with your psychologist and realize that if you do have these feelings, they are temporary and will resolve shortly. Practicing what you explore in session will help solidify new skills so that they become natural and automatic. Having a psychologist’s support is like driving with your own personal navigation system to guide you along your way. You will remain in control, but will now have great knowledge and support right by your side.
Think in between sessions and do your homework thoughtfully. Another great way to capitalize on your therapy is to give thought and time to the content of your sessions in between appointments. If your psychologist assigned homework, give it your best efforts. Practice the skills and/or strategies you learn in session so that you can discuss how well things went in your next session. This is equally important if things do not go well, so that you and your psychologist can use the next session to strategize an even more effective action for you.
Give feedback to your psychologist. It might seem insulting, but it is actually quite welcome by competent psychologists to receive constructive criticisms of your work. It is better to find out what might be frustrating or even off-putting during therapy than to lose the work when someone leaves due to dissatisfaction. A candid discussion about expectations, needs, or any other concerns can actually boost the working therapeutic relationship to overcome what obstacles might appear. Having the courage to speak up about your concerns might also be excellent practice in assertiveness. The best therapeutic relationships exist when you feel comfortable sharing any and all of your concerns with your psychologist.
Good psychotherapy is worth the investment. Don’t try to economize on time by spreading out sessions. Weekly sessions allow the maximal amount of possible growth. It might cost less, but will take more than double the time because you will invariably lose time catching up, and trying to recall two or more weeks’ worth of progress. The momentum you obtain with weekly sessions is the perfect pace. Look for other ways to save money. Therapy is a highly valuable endeavor that is worth your commitment in time, energy and cost. Isn’t your mental health worth it?
Remember while medication might be helpful to some, even critically beneficial, the reality is that pills teach us nothing. For some individuals, medication can bring a person to a state of readiness where good psychotherapy can begin. But for most people, the medication cannot solve any problems or change what is interfering with a person’s life and well-being. Therapy with a competent psychologist can give you the tools you need to navigation toward productivity, contentment, and peace of mind – all the hallmarks of good mental health. Cheers to your mental health!
Move forward/Feel better