Therapy is one of the few places where you can be completely honest with yourself and explore all your thoughts, feelings and actions. However, therapy is not simple or easy. Like any worthwhile undertaking, it can be demanding as well as immensely fulfilling.
To get the most out of your time in therapy, you should ask yourself: How can I best use this time? What will help me make the changes I want? What might get in the way of making progress?
The most important element that helps you change is your intention. Intention is an enduring commitment to know yourself and make choices that enhance the quality of your life. If you are dedicated to your own growth and all that entails, you will certainly experience positive changes. When you face a difficult issue or choice, your intention guides you towards the right outcome.
Much of the process of therapy is mysterious: profound shifts happen beneath awareness before we realize them consciously. Therapy is not so much a matter of sorting through problems to find solutions; it’s a consistent attitude of self-exploration and discovery. While at first you may be focused on resolving painful issues, essentially you are becoming your true Self and fulfilling your potential as a human being.
So why is therapy difficult? Why does it sometimes feel stuck? Most often you are avoiding painful memories or particular topics. One part of you wants to embrace change; another part, often unconscious, automatically resists and puts the brakes on. It is hard to face painful and disturbing aspects of your experience. Trauma and deeply ingrained negative beliefs do not resolve overnight. You have to be courageous but also patient and gentle with yourself.
Here are some common signs of resistance: You have an insight during the session and forget it on the way home. The therapist suggests a homework task; you are busy and it slips off your radar. You resolve to be more loving with your partner, but instead find yourself irritated and argumentative. Your therapist upsets you but you don’t say anything; you minimize the feelings and put it out of your mind. Resistance is natural and normal but it tends to slow down progress and can be frustrating.
For therapy to be most effective make a commitment to strengthen your intention and minimize your resistance. Below are some suggestions that help. Try them out, choose those that suit you best and make them a part of you therapeutic journey.
Before a Session
There’s an art to getting ready for a therapy session. At its best, you strike a balance between being mentally prepared and letting go of particular outcomes. Preparation lets your unconscious know that you are serious about the session. It responds by supporting your intention to change.
- Review the events and experiences of the week. Consult your journal to remind you of dreams and unusual thoughts and feelings.
- Take a few moments before the session to get quiet inside. Notice how you are feeling, particularly any hesitation or anxiety about sharing a topic.
- Decide if you are ready to address a particular issue in the session. If not, make a commitment to speak about it later.
- Have some themes you want to explore but do not create a rigid list.
- Notice and remember your state when starting the session; compare it how you feel afterward. This gives you a measure of what you got out of that session.
Within the Session
A productive session has a balance of experience and understanding. It should not always be what you expect; in fact deeper insights usually arise out of the blue. In the session, emotionally charged experiences need to be explored, processed and made sense of. When it works well, you should leave feeling different but not always better. Being stirred up is more beneficial than being bored!
- At the beginning, take a few minutes to breathe and get settled. Let go of mundane thoughts and concerns.
- Be as open and forthcoming as you can. Try not to censor or hide behind words.
- Be curious about your experience, particularly unexpected images, thoughts or feelings.
- Tolerate silences and use them to explore what is happening inside you.
- If you get stuck, say so. Ask yourself: How do I feel? What do I want?
- Listen to your therapist—but tell her/him if you feel misunderstood or unheard.
- Don’t rush. Take your time to let the therapist’s questions or comments settle before speaking.
- Ask “stupid” questions. Tell your therapist if she/he is off-track or talking too much.
- Capture insights mentally; write them down during the session or immediately afterward.
- Don’t be surprised if you have strong feelings or fantasies about your therapist. Those are signs of transference and are useful to help resolve relationship issues. Be brave and speak about your feelings.
- Don’t try to entertain or make your therapist feel comfortable!
- Immediately after a session, take time to look after yourself, particularly if you feel stirred up or drained.
It takes a commitment of time and effort to do therapeutic work between sessions. Like exercise, it helps to have a routine and reminders to pay attention to your inner experience.
- Write down your dreams as soon as you wake. Reflect on the images and actions in the dream. By agreement, email important dreams to your therapist to work on during a session.
- Keep a journal of important experience during the week. Detail any conflicts you have with significant people.
- Pay particular attention to unusual and intense thoughts, feelings and memories. Ask yourself: what does this remind me of?
- Cultivate ways to soothe and calm yourself: walk in nature, take hot baths, read, listen to music, chat to a friend, etc.
- Adopt a daily spiritual practice such as meditation and prayer; cultivate activities that quiet your mind and open your heart.
- Take time to listen to yourself and reflect on your experiences each day.
- Attempt the homework your therapist suggests. If it does not seem right, talk to your therapist.
- Search out inspirational and therapeutic books and videos. Ask your therapist for recommendations.
Therapy is not meant to be a burden or a drudge. The overarching goal is to expand and enhance the quality of your inner and outer life. There will be times of distress and inner disturbance, but with a supportive therapist and your own hard work, you will enjoy immeasurable benefits.