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31 May

How to get the best out of therapy

Written by Vanessa Williams MA

Image by @cocorebecca_

Perhaps you have been going through life changes like bereavement, a bad breakup, or a new job, and therapy has crossed your mind, but you are not sure what to expect, or how to even go about finding a therapist.

In my experience as a therapist, I have come across people who have felt a bit unsure about taking the steps to find a therapist for various reasons. I want to remind you that you are in control of your therapeutic experience. Here are some tips to help you navigate your therapeutic journey.

Be honest with yourself

You may think the first step to therapy is finding a therapist, right ? But the real first step is self awareness- recognising that you are actually struggling, and that you need help. I know, it sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? But the reality is it can be really difficult to truly be honest with yourself, when defence mechanisms from our unconscious minds are constantly trying to protect us from the uncomfortable feelings we really have. Defence mechanisms typically look like, ‘I’m fine thanks!’ when you are really going through internal turmoil, or telling yourself the story that ‘I can deal with this myself’ when you are currently spiralling, overwhelmed with the demands of life or your feelings of sadness have led to an inability to cope. Self-awareness is the first step to healing. If you are at a place where you have allowed yourself to recognise that you are not okay and want to get to a happier place, you are already half way there ! This is the hardest but most fundamental step in getting the most out of therapy. After all, you can’t engage in the therapeutic process when mentally you’re mentally not present. Its like being at a party, but mentally being at home in bed. You can’t fully embrace the experience if your mind is somewhere else.

Find the right therapist for you

Therapists are not ‘one size fits all‘. Remember that you are in control of the therapist you pick for yourself, and making sure that you and your therapist are compatible is paramount in getting the most out of your therapeutic experience. Think about it, to get the most out of therapy you are expected to be open, vulnerable and fully trust the therapist with your internal world. This is a lot to ask! So, help yourself by making sure that the therapist has the qualities, attitudes and therapeutic approach that creates a safe space for you to feel like you can actually be vulnerable. It’s like going to a networking event and meeting various people with different personalities and views on life. I personally wouldn’t feel as open in expressing my views or emotional struggles when I feel like our personalities clash, or the vibe is just…off. The same rules apply when finding a therapist. What is important to you to form a connection with your therapist? Is it important that your therapist shares the same faith, cultural background, gender, age group as you? Do they need to have a specific communication style ? Or do some of these factors not matter to you at all? These are some of the questions you need to ask yourself when selecting a therapist. Make sure that you take the time to read the therapists profiles, look closely at their experience, therapeutic approach and background to get a sense of who they are as a therapist and whether they are truly compatible with your personality, and what you are looking for. When you find a profile that you are drawn to, and you go for an initial consultation, please ask questions! By the end of the consultation, you want to have a clearer picture of what therapy with that particular therapist will look like. Trust how you are feeling about that therapist. If something doesn’t connect for you internally, that is okay! Keep looking until it feels right.

Be kind to yourself

One of the biggest misconceptions when starting therapy is that the therapist will fix all emotional problems, and with a few sessions you will be ‘good as new’. The truth of the matter is, in therapy, you will be unpacking deep-rooted, learnt behaviours and trying to pick up healthier and more productive ways of thinking. This is a big deal and takes time! So, please be kind to yourself in the process. If you have a bad day and revert to old habits of reactivity, negative self-talk or self-doubt, that is okay. Being kind to yourself involves understanding that relapsing is part of the process. Being able to recognise your overall progress and consciously making an effort to talk positively to yourself will encourage you to get back on track to personal growth. The key to self-development is your approach to obstacles, not the obstacles themselves.

Prioritise therapy & self-care

Being kind to yourself also involves prioritising yourself and your own emotional, mental and physical needs. For example, I know that I MUST go to the gym consistently during the week to relieve stress. This is my time for me and me only! Therapy is amazing for self-care and doing the internal work, but you must continue that process outside of the therapeutic room for it to become a real lifestyle change. Indulge in the healthy things that make you feel good, so that you can continue to be the best version of yourself in your day-to-day life. Whether that’s the gym, manicures/ pedicures, spa days, being with friends or crawling up in bed with popcorn and a glass of wine to watch The Real Housewives. Incorporating what you enjoy in life is also very much a significant part of the therapeutic process. After all, It’s a Lifestyle, Hun!


Vanessa’s BACP profile