Getting The Most Out Of Therapy

April 12, 2022

Getting The Most Out Of Therapy

Are you facing a change in your life or dealing with grief or loss? Have you experienced a recent crisis? Or is there something from your past that may be getting in the way of your current relationships or life? Are you experiencing frequent guilt, fear, anxiety, sadness, or mood swings? Or are there seemingly no big problems, and yet you still feel like your life or relationships are just not fulfilling or satisfying?

There are so many reasons to go to therapy. As JF&CS’ Licensed Clinical Social Worker Debbie Granovsky puts it, “Even Tiger Woods used a swing coach. When we struggle, we may go to the closest people we know for help, but sometimes friends and family can only help so much. If I break my arm, I won’t go to a neighbor to set it just because she broke her arm too.” Debbie says, “Therapists are trained and professional listeners. They help people figure out what’s in their control and what’s not, and then how to make the necessary changes to live a better life.”

Each counselor has their own way of working and creating a relationship of trust and understanding. “If you feel comfortable with the therapist,” says Debbie, “you can start exploring things together that may have been too difficult to look at alone.”

Find the right therapist...

The first step in getting the most out of therapy is to start therapy. To do that you must select a therapist. Debbie suggests starting out with a recommendation if you can. You can ask people in your community you trust. Your Rabbi, friends, or even a referral line are a good place to start.

As you talk to the therapist you can see if it feels like it’s a good fit. Before you set up the first appointment, briefly tell them what’s going on, and then you can ask them if they have experience with your issue(s), or what’s the therapy process like. Ask yourself how you feel when you talk to them. In the first few sessions you’re getting to know each other. Deep trust will take time, but you want someone you can see yourself talking to on a regular basis. They should be able to listen to you without judgements or preconceived notions. Notice if you’re feeling judged by them or supported by them.

... and fully invest

Therapy is an investment in time, money, and effort. So, once you find a therapist you trust, you will want to get the most out of the experience. Here are some suggestions on how to approach therapy to maximize your investment.

Be honest

It’s important to be as honest as possible with your therapist. According to Debbie, “The most common mistake someone in therapy makes, is not being honest and saying what they’re thinking.” It’s helpful to be open to all thoughts and emotions and express them; the therapist isn’t there to judge anyone. Debbie likes to say, “Therapists have many talents but being a mind reader isn’t one of them!”

“If the counselor says something that a client doesn’t agree with, that’s okay too,” says Debbie. “They need to let the counselor know. In fact, if you disagree, that’s a great opportunity to speak up and talk about that conflict or misunderstanding. If they just cancel the next appointment, then that closes the client off to any possible growth.”

Take risks

Therapy is a safe place where you can say things you wouldn’t ordinarily say. It’s an opportunity to explore things that may be hard to talk about. Are you hesitant to bring something up because you’re afraid you may be judged? That’s a common fear and it’s ok. You can tell your therapist that it’s hard or uncomfortable to talk about it. He/she will go slowly and make sure you feel comfortable (not overwhelmed or rushed or judged; let your therapist know if you’re ever feeling any of those things).

“Many of us are told that sharing feelings is somehow a show of weakness,” says Debbie. “That is a disservice and wrong. Burying feelings only makes us feel lonely. The one thing that can ease sadness, shame, or other uncomfortable emotions is sharing them with someone.”

Really look at how you react to relationships and communication

You can learn a lot about yourself from how you communicate with others. As Debbie says, “therapy is a safe place to unpack how you act and react.” What types of friends do we choose? How do we interact with our spouse, siblings, and parents? How do you converse with your therapist?

Each of these interactions are microcosms. Our interactions show us who we are and how we deal with the world in general. For instance, if in a session, someone goes silent when being challenged, they probably act the same way out of therapy as well. One therapist motto is “Less judgement, more curiosity.” We notice and apply curiosity, never judgement.

Set goals

Think about what you would like to accomplish through therapy. Is your goal to be happier, have healthier relationships, learn, and grow to find more personal satisfaction, or overcome a crisis? Setting up expectations of something you will want to explore with your therapist. Not only will help you both set guideposts, but also allow you to review what you’ve accomplished.

If you don’t have a set goal, that’s fine. We all are works in progress and have room for improvement. You may find while in therapy that you uncover a goal you’d like to accomplish. Discuss that with your therapist.

Get help when you’re in a crisis

Sometimes people go to therapy because they want to get more out of life and want to grow emotionally, mentally, spiritually, etc. Sometimes people go to therapy when they’re in a crisis. Crisis therapy tends to be shorter term.

A crisis is any situation that puts someone at risk of being able to care for themselves and/or function in the community in a healthy manner. There isn’t any one sign that a person is experiencing a mental health crisis, but some warnings are:

  • The inability to accomplish everyday tasks like getting dressed, eating or bathing
  • Having thoughts to hurt yourself
  • Dramatic shifts in mood, sleeping or eating patterns
  • Pulling away from friends and family
  • Showing reckless or aggressive behavior
  • Increased use of alcohol or prescription drugs or use of other drugs

Know when you can help yourself

“Once you have learned a new behavior, therapeutic tool or mindset, you can practice it and start to help yourself.” After practicing your new skill for a bit, this might be a good time to review if you’ve accomplished your goals or not. Ask yourself if you want to move to a new goal.

If you are making progress on your own, talk over with your therapist if it’s time to go longer between sessions or end regular therapy. “Many clients will make improvements, learn how to help themselves, and then take a break from therapy while they continue to practice their new skills,” says Debbie.

“We can set up a follow up session in 4-6 weeks to come in for more of a tune-up or check-in.”

Of course, communication is the most important part of therapy. A counselor is there to help you and wants the best for you. Let them know what you need and want. If you need help finding the right counselor, give JF&CS’ main line a call and we will help pair you with someone trained to help.

Contact us at or 770.677.9474.

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