Demystifying Psychotherapy: Unlocking the Full Potential of your Psychotherapy Experience

Psychotherapy can help us achieve our goals, whether that be personal growth, self-discovery, or improving our mental well-being. Whatever your reason for seeking therapy, getting the most out of your psychotherapy sessions requires active engagement and commitment. My colleague, Kate Ernstrom, wrote a previous article about how to get the most out of therapy which may be helpful to read if you are experiencing any feelings of doubt or nervousness about starting therapy. I recommend starting with Kate’s article to help set expectations about the process and to give you a good sense of what happens in early sessions. In this article, I will delve into some further strategies and expand on the foundation that Kate has outlined. You can think of what follows as an extension of her article.

Complete Your “Homework” and Reflect Outside of Session

It is important to remember that in most cases you will only be seeing your therapist for an hour each week. These sessions are incredibly important and allow you to develop insight, understanding, and a clear idea of what to practice/give further attention to. However, at the end of the day, it is only an hour each week. A lot of the change and growth you will see comes from the effort that you commit to outside of session.

Oftentimes therapists will suggest activities or practices for you to work on outside of session. Some examples of these are journaling, mindfulness exercises, or trying new communication strategies. These activities reinforce the work done in therapy and ultimately contribute to lasting change. I highly recommend embracing them as opportunities to further your personal growth.

Keep a Consistent Cadence

Meeting a therapist on a consistent basis is an important part of both making progress and maintaining that progress. If we do not prioritize therapy, it is easy to let life get in the way of scheduling weekly sessions. Conversely, attending therapy routinely and minimizing cancellations can make a significant difference and lead to more rapid change. Gaps in attendance may lead to a regression in progress or the reemergence of challenges, while consistency can help prevent unexpected regressions or relapses in unwanted behaviors.

This is especially true at the beginning of therapy. When you are first getting to know your therapist, meeting frequently allows you both to establish your connection and build the rapport that will be the foundation for your progress going forwards. Regular meetings allow the therapeutic alliance to deepen over time, creating a supportive and collaborative environment for addressing concerns.

Evaluate your Progress and Adjust if Needed

When we are experiencing distress every day, it is sometimes hard to notice the progress being made. It can be a valuable exercise to periodically assess your developing strengths and check how you are moving towards your goals. Progress is not linear, and there will be times when it feels like you may be plateauing in therapy. The earlier you can catch or notice these experiences and communicate them to your therapist, the better. Flexibility is important in therapy, and the process needs to be tailored to your needs. As you progress in therapy, what you need from your therapist may change, and the process may need to be modified.

Create a “Brave Space” in Session

Vulnerability is never easy, and yet it is the foundation for so much of the growth achieved through the therapeutic process. When you are starting therapy with a new therapist, I recommend working towards the creation of a “brave space.” A brave space is one where you are able to explore and address difficult conversations and experiences with courage and challenge your own assumptions. Therapy should be a space where you feel empowered to say what you are thinking, be honest, probe deeper, and have constructive––if sometimes uncomfortable––dialogue.

It is important to note that brave spaces and safe spaces are not mutually exclusive. In fact, therapy is a space where you should be able to be uncomfortable, while also feeling safe and secure. Striking a balance between being protected and challenged will allow you and your therapist to move you towards becoming the person you want to be.

Psychotherapy is a transformative process that requires dedication, openness, and a willingness to explore the depths of your inner world. By consistently working both in and out of session, embracing discomfort, and being flexible as your needs change, you can maximize the benefits of this transformative process.