There is so much to consider when creating a satisfying therapy experience. Some clients have the best of intentions when getting started with therapy, but find themselves feeling stuck and discouraged about what to talk about and how to get the most out of the process. Here are some guidelines for creating and sustaining an effective and enjoyable therapy process both in and out of the therapy room. These guidelines include how to create a map to guide the process, how to keep growth active between sessions, cross-training options, how to integrate others into your growth process, and how to decide on the frequency, length, and type of therapy most fitting for your needs.
Identify your Emotional Growth Edge
- Create a map with your therapist- Be proactive in deciding what areas of focus are most relevant to you, and don’t assume your therapist knows where to steer. Research shows that clients that are able to set goals and envision a change process typically feel more empowered and have better outcomes in therapy. An initial map may be created during the first few sessions, yet feel free to let the focus unfold and evolve throughout the process. Creating a map can make exploring new terrains more enjoyable, because there will always a main trail to return to.
- Use emotions as guide- Our emotional system and autonomic nervous system can be master guides as to what needs attention. By slowing down, breathing deeply, and noticing what we feel in our body (and what we would rather not feel), we can be guided to our emotional growth edge. This is the place where the known meets the unknown, comfort meets pain, and old patterns meet new growth potential. Just like a physical workout, therapy often feels most effective when we lean into the right amount of discomfort and grow into that emotional edge.
Express Your Self
- Journal after sessions- As soon as you get out of session, write, write, write. Give fresh ideas and emotions a place to live. Revisit these emotional artifacts between sessions. Add to your internal dialogue as thoughts progress throughout the week. Review these notes before each session.
- Creative expression- Give your process form. Draw, paint, sing, garden, crochet, cook, dance. Let activity be guided by inspired by what you are learning and feeling. Repetition, reenactment, and symbolic representation are important components of learning and growth.
Surround Yourself with Others on a Growth Path
- Talk with others about your journey- Reach out and share. Include others in your process. Tell trusted friends, co-workers, and family what you are up to and compare notes with them. Celebrate your efforts with others and be inspired by their journey.
- Join a group- Consider participating in a therapy process group, a men’s group, a women’s group, or a recovery group. Join a hiking group, sports team, professional group, academic group, or volunteer group. Rub elbows with motivated, active, creative peers that are looking to grow and thrive with others.
- Adopt an integral and holistic approach to your process- Body, mind, and soul are intersecting layers of the human experience and each need specialized attention and care. To neglect or deny any domain will stunt growth in both life and in the therapy room. The more we acknowledge and develop these realities of our life, the more we feel balance, vitality, and well-being.
- Body- Revisit the basics of physical exercise, healthy eating, deep breaths, sleep, medical care, managing addictions, healthy sexuality. Obvious and effective but not always easy to practice.
- Mind- Unplug from incessant thinking, obsessions, and worry. Adopt practices which help you slow down and reset such as meditation, contemplation, and walks in the woods. Unplug from compulsive screen time. Seek out new and inspiring takes on reality from cutting-edge thinkers in psychology, philosophy, religion, etc. Cultivate self-talk which is supportive, loving, and emotionally intelligent.
- Soul- Identify what about life is most meaningful and enjoyable and pursue it. Serve something larger than yourself. Reflect on deeper realities and truth. Ask Life for help and guidance. Be kind to others. Forgive. Cultivate gratitude for all things. Believe that happiness is possible and pursue it.
Become Your Own Expert
- Don’t stop learning- So much information is available at our fingertips. Seek out lectures, podcasts, documentaries, workshops, etc. that educate and inspire learning. Keep yourself humble by taking on new education.
- Be your own authority- Become the narrator of your life story; who you are, how you work, your unique challenges, and what helps. Experts in the field of psychology, health, spirituality, etc. have something important to offer and learn from, but their theories are limited. Add to these theories, diagnoses, and treatments and further these fields of knowledge by being your own authority based on your experience.
Have New Experiences
- Do experiments- Adopt a scientific mindset in regards to what you want to discover. Form a hypothesis about what happens in your life, experiment with new behavior, analyze how it feels, conclude if the effects are desirable, share your results in session.
- Take risks- Stretch out of your comfort zone, trail blaze, do the opposite, face your fears.
Be Honest With Your Therapist
- Work towards increased openness- The gift of therapy is the opportunity to talk in depth about what really matters; your inner experiences of life. Therapy becomes more and more satisfying as trust develops and the range of our experiences can be shared. Everything is fair game to be expressed.
- Talk about feelings evoked during therapy- Talk about what you like and don’t like about the therapy process. Talk about what you like and don’t like about your therapist. Opening up our emotional life to another can feel like a huge risk. We often didn’t have support for this in our family growing up, and conventional social interactions don’t support this level of directness.
Identify the Most Effective Frequency and Modality of Therapy
- Weekly rhythm- A weekly rhythm with therapy, especially at the initial stage, is ideal to provide enough ‘reps’ to lead to desired changes and goals. It provides time for development of the therapeutic relationship which contains and supports therapy, opportunity to access new feeling, thought, and behavior more deeply, and time to integrate what is being learned and make it the new normal.
- Every other week rhythm- An every other week rhythm is ideal as a ‘maintenance rhythm’ after some structure, change, and momentum is created. Every other week contact is often less helpful in affecting substantial change. Talk with your therapist about what frequency would support your process the most.
- Take breaks- Adopt a ‘long-game’ view of emotional development and growth. Allow for the the ebbs and flows of emotional growth, and that there are times to plumb the psychological depths, and other times to play and relax.
- Couples therapy and group therapy – These modalities are superbly helpful with relational issues. They provide real-time opportunities to see and feel what happens in connection and disconnection with others. New behaviors can be tried with immediate feedback and support.
- Retreat intensives- Retreat intensives are typically geared toward couples wanting a ‘therapy immersion’ and are often facilitated by a therapist(s) at a destination setting. Spiritual retreats may also provide therapeutic opportunities of unplugging from the routine, rest, psychological reflection, and soul rejuvenation.
The process of psychotherapy is not dissimilar to learning a new language, practicing a musical instrument, or working out in the gym. Success in these areas require structure, repetition, and guidance over the process. The most effective therapy processes include an active collaboration between client and therapist, integrating family and friends into your change process, and finding ways to bridge work done in the session hour with daily life.