3 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Therapy

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A friend recently endured a series of counselling sessions which were completely unsatisfying, although at the end of the sessions, my friend thanked the therapist and told him how effective the sessions had been and how much better she felt. What a colossal waste of everybody’s energy and intentions.

I recently heard from a friend of mine that she had endured a series of counselling sessions which were completely unsatisfying — maddening, even — because she needed the therapist to give an opinion. At the end of the sessions, being a polite kind of girl, my friend thanked the therapist and told him how effective the sessions had been and how much better she felt.

My blood turned cold, as I wondered just how many people out there, for various reasons, are not getting what they need, and how many therapists are working away, oblivious to the ineffectiveness of their work with these particular clients. I also wondered how in heaven’s name the therapist concerned did not realise that no connection had been made, or feel my friend’s mounting frustration, but that may be ungenerous on my part. The heart of the therapist’s job is surely to be empathically aware of the client. But who am I to judge a whole situation which I did not observe myself? I can, however, quite fairly say: what a colossal waste of everybody’s energy and intentions.

1. Communicate With Your Therapist

So, number one on my list of how to make sure that you get something worthwhile out of your therapy is: communicate with your therapist about what you need. Of course they might refuse to comply; there may have been a very good reason why my friend’s therapist did not venture an opinion. But there will no longer be the feeling that you are talking to a brick wall, an unresponsive parent, or however it is you experience the therapist’s lack of opinion. You may understand their reason and find it helpful as you go on to find out what your own opinion on the matter in hand really is. You might get the answer you feel you need. Or, during the discussion you might finally get a sense that your therapist is a “real person” without their actually having to tell you what they personally think about the situation — and that might be enough. Working through your needs for more personal engagement might be just the key you need to help you in all areas of your life. Or of course you might continue to feel your therapist is withholding, unreal, putting on a front, not willing to engage, etc., and now the question has been explicitly aired you can leave, no longer wasting your efforts, time or money, and find a therapist who better suits your needs, preferences, and/or personality.

2. Pay Attention to the Preamble

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A related way of getting the best out of your therapy is to listen and engage with the preamble at the start, when the therapist outlines how they work and what the basic structure of the therapy will look like. As a therapist I often feel a temptation to gloss over this bit in order to attend to the pressing issues that the client is bringing. (When feelings are running very high, I schedule time for the “practical issues”at the end of the session.) And as a client, I remember not listening to this bit at all, being so understandably preoccupied with my own state. Paying some attention, though, can pre-empt all kinds of undercover resentments and problems later. Psychoanalysts and those influenced by psychoanalytic theory may start the first session with an impenetrable silence (which I vividly remember once being on the receiving end of). In this case, it is up to you to begin, but it might be a good idea at some point during the first session to ask questions about your therapy, the ones which are lurking on the edges of your mind, like: “Will you give me your personal opinion about my situation?” “Can I contact you between sessions?” or “How long do you envisage therapy lasting?”

3. Seize the Moment

The psychoanalyst Lacan was renowned for the “short session”. He noticed — as has, I think, every therapist I have talked to — that for a large proportion of clients, 50-minute sessions tend to be conducive to 45 minutes of talking, which keeps the real issues at bay, followed by a “doorknob revelation” as the client leaves. Lacan’s unconventional solution to this dilemma was to vary the length of the sessions unpredictably, so the client, knowing that every moment might be the last, was forced to come straight to the point. You are probably lucky enough not to have a therapist who is prone to charging you an hour’s fee for three minutes, but going into a session with the same “now-or-never” attitude might well help your therapy to flow more quickly and more effectively.

Therapy is a very special kind of conversation, but it does not exclude straight talking about the conditions and expectations on both sides.

Do you have any advice for others on getting the best out of your therapy?

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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