1. Find the Right Therapist. In order for therapy to be maximally effective, it’s essential that there’s a good fit between you and your therapist. Do your research (Psychology Today has a great therapist listing) and be open to interviewing many potential therapists before deciding on the one for you. Trust your gut and be selective; you deserve the best care possible. Consider trying teletherapy (sessions by video) to open up the options.
2. Ask questions. In therapy, there’s no such thing as a bad question. If you aren’t sure why something is being done, or if things are not improving, bring it up in session and work to collaborate with your therapist and to ensure that you understand the treatment recommendations.
3. Use your time in session wisely. Therapists are not mind-readers. The more forthcoming you are about what you’re looking for and what issues you want to address, the better the outcome is likely to be. On that note, leaving out important details or waiting until the last 5 minutes of the session to bring up your “real” issue can also harm the therapeutic process & impede progress.
4. Be willing to take emotional risks. You can only get as much out of therapy as you’re willing to share and be vulnerable. Face your fears connected to looking inside of yourself. When people take the journey and begin to find themselves, they discover that who they really are is a precious spirit who wants to love and be loved.
5. Therapy is confidential. Your therapist will not release or repeat any of the material you share with them unless you request it and sign accordingly.
6. You set the goals. Therapists seek to build resilience and the ability to focus on healthy choices. Our aim is to help our clients have successful lives, whatever that means to them. We do not tell you what to do with your life, make decisions for you, or want to “change” you. It’s about building a relationship with someone who can help you heal, focus on symptom management, have a happier life, and survive some hurtful, possibly traumatic life experiences.
7. Speak up. Therapy should always involve mutual respect between client and therapist and the clients’ voice should always be heard. It’s important that clients trust their gut about whether or not things are working for you in therapy and feel comfortable discussing those issues with their therapist. If you do not feel this, it’s important to consider looking elsewhere for a new therapist.
8. Therapists are not principals. As therapists, our role is not to scold or punish kids or to act as authoritative figures in their lives. We seek to develop trusting relationships with them and to help them (and their families) develop the skills, and make the changes necessary, to be happy and successful.
9. Couples counselors don’t take sides. We aren’t looking for who is “right” and who is “wrong.” We’re looking for how to improve communication patterns and cultivate trust between partners in the relationship.
10. One size does not fit all. There are many different approaches to therapy and it doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment. While long-lasting progress may take considerable time and effort, sometimes even just a few sessions can raise awareness and initiate change.
11. Child therapy works best when the family is involved. Working with children often involves working with parents or the whole family. Successful therapy may involve making changes in terms of parenting, house rules, communication patterns, etc.
12. Collaboration is ideal. Therapy is often not a stand-alone solution. Instead, it works best in a collaborative treatment team fashion where the client and multiple providers and support people are working together for the same goal. Therapists may collaborate with a range of practitioners, including school administration staff and teachers and various medical providers (psychiatrists, neurologists, pediatricians, etc.)
13. Practice makes perfect (or closer to it). Much of what happens throughout therapy occurs outside of the therapy room, between sessions, when you put what you learn into practice. Principles and skills learned in therapy can be applied to a variety of life settings and can lead to significant change in many domains of your life (if effort is made). Homework enhances the therapy experience by encouraging practice and often involves writing assignments to process thoughts and emotions in meaningful ways.
14. It’s an honor and privilege to be on the journey with our clients. We’re grateful for the privilege of hearing life stories and for being reminded over and over again how resilient people really are in dealing with the various life circumstances that come into their lives
15. Emotions can’t be wrong. Likewise, they can’t be too strong, not intense enough, irrational, or inappropriate. They may feel overwhelming or difficult to handle, but ultimately, only our behaviors are within our control. With ongoing effort and change, handling our emotions and our reactions to them gets easier. Change is possible!
16. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Most people are doing their best and generally mean well. Content people tend to resist the temptation to take things personally and instead, try to see things from the other person’s vantage point or as a reflection of the other person’s limitations or decisions.
17. Suicidal ideation is common. Despite being commonly believed, talking about suicide does not cause nor encourage it. However, ignoring it can. Seek help if you are struggling and pay attention to changes in your loved ones that may suggest that they are suffering.
18. There are many ways to educate yourself. Books, podcasts, online material, and other various media sources provide a wealth of information about factors related to mental health and therapy. For example, parents of teens may appreciate books such as Reviving Ophelia (Pipher), How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk (Faber), and Get Out of My Life but First Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall (Wolf). Those seeking an inside look at the world of therapy may enjoy the books The Making of a Therapist (Cozolino) or The Gift of Therapy (Yalom). The Dr. Drew Podcast is a weekly podcast that explores many mental health-related topics. TV (e.g., In Treatment) and films (e.g., Lars and the Real Girl, Good Will Hunting, and Girl, Interrupted) also give a glimpse into different aspects of mental health conditions and treatment.
19. Get creative. There are countless approaches to emotional expression that are beneficial and effective. Journaling, creative writing, poetry, artwork, songwriting, or playing music are tremendously valuable and often utilized as therapeutic homework. Play around with different forms of expression and pay attention to how you feel. Ultimately, you’re the expert on yourself!
20. Avoidance is often your worst enemy. Avoidance is common, especially in the face of anxiety and fear. While it often feels nice in the short-term, it keeps people stuck and missing out on a meaningful life. Stigma and the idea that asking for help is a weakness are two factors that commonly prevent people from getting the support they need. The sooner you get help, the quicker you’ll feel better!
21. Medication can help, even if it’s short-term. If you’re conflicted, it may help to get a second opinion, explore the issue in therapy, and/or research your options (you can check out this website to get started: US National Library of Medicine).