If you’re reading this, it is likely that you are in therapy or contemplating it. Therapy is an investment of time, money, and effort in yourself and your future. Accordingly, you will want to maximize that investment by making the most of the time you spend with your therapist. Here are five ways to make your therapy more effective:
1. Find the Right Therapist
Studies have shown the relationship between the therapist and client is a “main curative component” in therapeutic success. That means a good rapport with your therapist is even more important than his or her therapeutic approach. If you don’t feel comfortable with a therapist, chances are you won’t make progress, so choose someone with whom you feel a connection. Therapists understand that they won’t be a good fit for everyone. Trust is paramount to therapy success; if you are uncomfortable, it’s time to find someone else.
2. Have a Goal in Mind
Most contemporary therapies are outcome focused, so having a well-considered goal before you begin will save time in session. Once you’ve identified the goal (for example, “reduce my anxiety”), think about objectives that will help you measure your progress (“I’ll be able to go out with friends once a week;” “I’ll sleep through the night”). You and your therapist may modify or even change the goal and/or objectives, but the thinking you do ahead of time about where you want to go and what you’d like your life to look like will greatly speed up the process.
3. Beware of COWs
COWs, or Crises of the Week, can derail therapy progress, leaving both client
and therapist frustrated. Yes, issues will arise that need to be discussed in therapy, but if you and your therapist spend every session putting out the latest fire, there won’t be time to address the underlying issue(s). Resolving core issues is what will lead to long-term success and achievement of your vision. Prioritize your COWs and try to keep most of them in the pasture rather than in the therapy room. You’ll find as you make progress in therapy, some of these will be resolved as a result of your feeling better.
4. Make a Commitment
Whatever brought you to therapy, it’s likely that it happened over a period of time and that you’ve been experiencing problematic symptoms for a while. Just as it takes time for unhealthy or unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to develop, so it takes time to replace them with different ones. Give yourself a chance to make changes by committing to a course of therapy that you agree on with your therapist, then stick to it. Regular sessions are usually necessary to make real and lasting change. Even if from time to time you don’t feel like keeping your appointment, your persistence will pay off handsomely in the end.
5. Stretch Yourself
Be ready – and willing – to reach outside the box. Making the changes you want to see in your life typically involves doing things that don’t feel comfortable at first; for example, setting clear relationship boundaries, communicating feelings, and embarking on lifestyle changes. With practice, however, you’ll find the new approaches you implement will become easier and will feel more natural. If you truly want change, your willingness to stretch yourself will be rewarded.
 Lambert, Michael J.; Barley, Dean E. (2001) Research summary on the therapeutic relationship and psychotherapy outcome, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 38(4), 357-361.
Alexandria Hayes is a therapist with The Labyrinth Institute specializing in the treatment of trauma. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 720-588-3639.