Preparing for therapy can be a scary task. There is a massive amount of misinformation out there! This often overshadows the benefits of therapy.
However, therapy is an incredibly dynamic and helpful experience.
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Let's talk about about how therapy can benefit you.
Therapy is a means to connect your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It improves insight into your own problems that promotes self-driven solutions.
There is a wide array of problems that therapy can help with.
Though, every therapist is not skilled in each problem set. So you will need to find a therapist using awesome tools like the Find a Therapist Tool through Psychology Today. This will help you find a therapist in your area that has the skills you’re looking for.
So, what qualities make a good therapist?
As you’re preparing for therapy, it’s important that you are seeking out the right one.
There are generally some common qualities that a therapist will have, which include empathy, understanding, alliance, acceptance, enactment of healthy actions, and more.
There are some more advanced qualities also for therapists that can make them valuable. This includes a broad clinical skill set. You will want to know that your therapist can apply more than one technique to your problem set.
Every person that comes in to see a therapist is different. For that reason, they cannot simply apply the same technique to everyone.
You can get the most out of therapy by assuring that you are first comfortable.
If there is an approach or style that your therapist is using that doesn’t feel right, tell them! You are paying good money to be there and have a say in the direction for your therapy sessions.
As you prepare for therapy, you must see your therapist as a partner in your journey and trust in their skill set.
If you still feel uncomfortable after talking with your therapist, it then is OK to seek out someone different. Don’t consider it wasted time if that’s what you have to do!
After that experience, you now will know what more you need from a therapist and can filter out therapists who may not fit that mold.
To make progress in therapy, you must invest time and effort into the process.
Therapy sessions are not passive! I learned this the hard way.
When you are in session, you must reflect upon yourself and day’s topic. And outside of session, you have to put that knowledge to use!
This can be especially difficult if there’s a lot of time between sessions. Even with short periods, you may have a lot that’s going on and it’s tough to remember everything you want to say.
If that sounds like you, check out My Therapy Companion. It’s guaranteed to make therapy more effective and ultimately- cheaper!
So let’s detail how exactly to prepare for your therapy sessions.
How to Prepare for Therapy Sessions
You must put effort into therapy. If you want to get the most out of it, you will need to prepare in advance and be assured that you’re discussing relevant issues.
Your therapist will help guide you based upon your goal, but you also have to take some accountability in this.
If your goal in therapy is to improve your anger, it is not relevant to talk about the new pair of jeans you just bought (unless you have an unusual rage towards denim…).
So let’s detail (in no particular order) exactly how you can prepare for your therapy sessions to make them as effective as possible.
1.Talking to A Therapist for The First Time
Talking to a therapist the first time can be scary. Movie have portrayed therapists as Hannibal Lecters- that they are somehow able to delve into your mind and manipulate you.
That’s simply not true. The fact is, we often can’t know anything you’re unwilling to share.
So as you look to start therapy, you must be completely open and honest. We are trained to pick up on body language, tone, and other cues. But we are not able to read your mind.
What you say in therapy stays in therapy.
2.Starting Your First Session
Each therapist and type of therapy is different. However, the first therapy session is generally very similar.
Your therapist is going to ask you about your problem. Why are you there in front of them?
To know what you want to say, try journaling about your problem. We sometimes think we know what the problem is but after processing in our mind, it turns out to be something very different.
If journaling isn’t your forte, you can even talk about your problem to a close friend.
The point is to give yourself time to critically think about different aspects of the problem to bring up with your therapist.
3. Focus on How You Feel
One of the best therapies (supported by evidence) is Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
Many therapists embrace, at least in part, the pillar’s methodology. And the fundamental theory behind it is that your thoughts lead to feelings which lead to behaviors.
If you can focus on how you are feeling at any given moment, your therapist can help you back track to improve the thoughts.
4. Recognize Your Apprehension
It’s OK to be nervous before therapy sessions. As you continue on, they will become less significant in your mind.
That isn’t to say, however, that your sessions will become less meaningful.
To help the therapeutic process, allow yourself to feel nervous but do your best to keep it in check. You want to be able to think in session.
If you are really nervous, let your therapist know. They may coach you through a breathing exercise to relax.
5. Show up 10 Minutes Early
Life is fast paced. Add onto that some stress now regular appointments seeing a therapist, and it becomes easy to lose focus of what we want to talk about.
When you can get to your therapist’s office early enough to sit down and not rush for a few moments, your heart rate and blood pressure will naturally drop. You will become more relaxed and able to think clearly.
Despite how busy we think we are, your sessions are a priority. Don’t make your schedule so jam packed that you aren’t able to take a moment to reflect before session.
6. Be Aware of Your Physical Health
Therapy may be to help your mind, but your mind is affected by your body.
When you are preparing for your therapy sessions, you must consider how your physical health has been.
It is absolutely relevant if you’ve been feeling sick, achy, or exhausted. Your mental wellness can cascade down to cause various physical ailments.
7. Manage Your Expectations
Most contemporary theories of psychotherapy are fairly brief. Well, in comparison to the historic “we need to talk about your mom” approach. To be honest, I’m not even sure that was ever a thing.
Anyhow, a therapist cannot make you do anything. They can simply reflect upon your ideas and help motivate for change.
If you are believing that simply showing up to your session is enough, you area dead wrong. You will not see almost any lasting benefit to just showing up passively discussing your life’s pet peeves.
8. Don't Lie to Yourself
Your reasons for going to therapy are between you and yourself. The least you can be with yourself is truthful about what you are wanting to see changed.
Yes, we do sometimes feel that there’s a need for change or that something just isn’t right, but we can’t identify what.
If that’s the case, journal how you feel. You can come to some amazing realizations this way.
9. Spend Time in Reflection
Whether you are about to start your first session or have been in therapy for years, you should spend some time reflecting before session.
Ideally, this is done more thoroughly than the 10 minutes beforehand.
You want to really take in what has been discussed in previous sessions and how you are carrying out any homework that’s been assigned.
If you realize you’ve not been doing your part, then why? Are you scared of succeeding?
If reflection is especially difficult for you, consider using a book like Cognitive Behavior Therapy Made Simple: 10 Strategies for Managing Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Panic and Worry. This book will help you work through all of your thoughts!
10. Gauge How You Are Doing
We have all have a personal blind spot. That means that we can’t always see exactly how we are doing in comparison to where we were.
Ask a loved one how they think you’re doing. Are you making progress towards your goal?
Maybe you have improved in one area but another still needs work. That’s OK!
Therapy does take some time. But you should be able to see some- even minute results, in the short term.
Make sure you are staying on track!
If you’re unsure of how else to measure progress, ask your therapist!
11. Do Not Expect to Spend The Session Venting
Venting can be initially therapeutic. It helps you let out frustration. But it is not helpful for the long term.
All that venting does is helps you bring yourself back to neutral where the real work can be done. So, let yourself vent if it’s needed but keep yourself in check.
If you do begin to vent for too long, and your therapist calls you on it, you should be thanking them. You’re there to put in real work. They’re saving you time.
12. Make Yourself A Daily Journal
Journaling is so under-rated. And you can probably tell that I’m a big fan of it due to the few references I’ve had already in this post!
Seriously though, if you want to really prepare for therapy and get work done quickly, then you will journal.
When you journal daily, you’ll begin to see patterns come across in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. This is a gold mine of real data to use in your therapy sessions.
On top of the personal content you can realize through journaling, you can also jot down different questions about yourself.
13. Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable
Your therapist may seem like a stranger. And because of that, being vulnerable can be very difficult.
However, if you want to prepare for your therapy sessions well, you must embrace what you feel and let it out.
If you find yourself crying, that’s OK. Whether vulnerable emotions happen in or out of therapy, it is a sign that positive change is occurring.
Vulnerability should be talked about!
14. Don't Assume Your Therapist Is Always Right
On the other hand, you’re not always right either. In therapy, there are few definitives. But what you should be prepared for is a discussion of your issue.
Your therapist may have one interpretation of your thoughts and feelings while you have another.
It is important to work with your therapist in evaluating yourself. You both are a team to reach a common destination- your therapy goal.
15. Frequency of Sessions Depends on Many Factors
One common misconception with therapy is that you’ll be seen once per week. That is not necessarily the case.
You need to take into account as you begin your therapy journey that support may not be as immediate and long standing as you’d like.
When we’re in the middle of a crisis, it’s normal to feel like you need to be seen very frequently. The fact of the matter is that well scheduled sessions can achieve success by empowering your change.
Also, as a new client, your therapist may not have the availability to fit you into their schedule as frequent as you’d like. If your sessions are too spread out, then ask about a cancellation list.
Generally once you’re established for a few weeks, they can start booking you multiple appointments at a time to get regular intervals set up.
16. Duration of Therapy Is No Different
There are many types of problems that someone seeks counseling for. One problem is not necessarily worse than another but may require a longer approach.
Take for example a medical doctor treating a broken arm vs new onset diabetes. The arm will heal with time but there are things that can be done to help it. Diabetes does not get better on its own and may require a lot of education for the patient to learn to manage it independently.
As you are preparing for your therapy session, don’t get offended if your therapist doesn’t indicate your issue will be a long standing one.
You definitely want to ask from the start how long you should expect to be in sessions.
17. Be Prepared with Your Co-payment at Each Visit
Your therapist is running, or at least a part of, a business. They rely upon your insurance and co-payments to operate the lights, pay salaries, and provide you good service.
Now, just because it’s a business doesn’t mean they don’t care about you. Trust me, they do.
What it means, however, is that if you do not keep up on your tab, you may be terminated as a patient.
To make sure that doesn’t happen, talk to your therapist if you are having trouble making payments.
If your co-payments are adding up, check this out for help!
18. One Bad Session Is Not The End-All Be-All
You obviously are seeking out counseling because of a very troubling issue. In fact, you may find that you become so upset during a session that you walk out.
Don’t let that be a deterrent to showing up at your next session. Talk to your counselor about what happened and the sensitive button that was touched.
I guarantee you that it’s not the first nor the last time someone has walked out of a session.
19. Don't Assume That Minor Thoughts Are Pointless
Therapists cannot read your mind. For that reason, we have to go off what you’re telling us. We are experts in connecting your fragmented thoughts.
So tell us what you are thinking. It may seem minor or pointless to the topic at hand, but let the counselor determine what to do with that information.
You all are partners in the therapeutic process. But don’t confuse roles here; you both have separate jobs in getting to your end goal.
20. Diagnosis Is Important but It's Not
Going into therapy, you may be worried that you are going to be labeled as “crazy”. That’s far from the truth.
If you are concerned about what’s in your chart then ask. It is YOUR chart. You’re entitled to it.
Diagnosis is used for billing and for common language among other counselors. It is not used to shame anyone.
To manage these concerns, ask your counselor about writing your progress note together. There are many benefits to adding your own thoughts to the record.
21. Find Support outside of Therapy
Finding a support group or even just a good friend who you can talk about your sessions can be super valuable.
Depending on the problem you’re having may dictate the direction you go with that support.
The intent is to immerse yourself into an environment where you can discuss your issue in group of like-minded people who can offer mutual help. Groups are not as scary as they sound!
22. Friends Can Help You Prepare for Therapy
Whether you are nervous for your first session or just want someone to help explain your thoughts, consider bringing a friend to therapy.
Your therapist will want you to be as comfortable as possible. If that means bringing a friend, then do so. They can provide insight that you may not be able to share.
And if this friend is a comforting pet of yours, check with your therapist first, but I bet they’d be agreeable to that also!
Knowing How to Prepare for Therapy Makes A Difference
These tips on how to prepare for therapy certainly have a lot of similarities. Don’t take this long list as a daunting hurdle you have to overcome to make therapy worthwhile.
This list serves as a way for you to understand what really goes into therapy and how you will benefit from it.
Take it from me as someone who’s been through a few sessions himself. Getting prepared for therapy and implementing what’s discussed is crucial to making lasting change.
What are some ways that you get prepared for therapy? What struggles have you had?