Tips for Utilizing Therapy

By Andrew Lopez, CPS

I’ve been in therapy for a number of years and have had to figure a lot of things out in terms of maximizing my therapeutic services. I thought I’d share some of the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years about utilizing psychotherapy.

1: Ask about the different modalities of therapy. A lot of people don’t know that there are many modes of therapy that include things like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, EMDR, somatic therapy, equine therapy, and many more.they all have strengths and weaknesses and fit better for some than others. Most therapists are trained in more than one modality and can talk to you about the differences between them. It’s a good idea to talk with your therapist about the types they are trained on as well as once they aren’t in case you need to change to a different therapist. Some forms of therapy work well with certain symptoms such as trauma based therapies and you ultimately have to do a little bit of trial and error to find out what works for you. You can have this conversation about different modalities with a case manager or service facilitator if you have one.

2: Ask for direct feedback. Many therapists will focus on listening while you’re talking about your difficulties and many will hesitate to give direct feedback until invited. It’s a good idea if you’re seeking direct advice or feedback to ask the therapist directly for this. I’ll often ask my own therapist “do you think this is healthy” or “what do you recommend that I do to help with this?”. This not only gives the therapist time to respond but indicates that you are strongly seeking feedback and not just listening. Most therapists will be very direct if you ask them to be.

3: Focus the conversation and direction of goals.  Sometimes a therapist will ask questions to begin the conversation and get you talking about important topics. However ultimately it’s up to you to decide how to utilize her therapy services. If you feel like talking about a certain subject is more important than others you have every right to tell the therapist that you want to work on that goal over others. You can say things like “I’d like to work on this today” and redirect them from other conversations if you want to. A good therapist won’t mind this and will try to meet your needs wherever they may be at. A therapist may suggest working on one subject or goal. But you can set what goals are a priority for you. I sometimes will talk with my therapist about what goals I want to specifically work on.

4: Tell the therapist about difficult areas of conversation.  Sometimes the therapist will press questions in an area because they want to assist you and work on that area. It’s okay for you to have a conversation with the therapist ahead of time letting them know that there are certain topics which are likely to trigger you. It is a good idea for you and the therapist to have a plan on what to do when triggered. Most therapists will discuss this at the beginning of therapy service if the therapy is trauma focused.  Whatever therapy services you are utilizing it’s a good idea to have this conversation with the therapist to let them know what your wishes are if you get into a situation where you feel triggered and unsafe.  There are many options here and your therapist can discuss things like doing grounding activities, redirecting conversation or ending a session early.

5: Ask the therapist for “homework”.  There are many hours in the week and usually you’re just in therapy for one of those hours. Most of us want to work on our recovery for more than just the time we are there sitting in therapy services. One way of maximizing your therapy services is to ask your therapist for activities to engage in our projects to work on in between therapy sessions.if you’re working on a particular symptom you can ask the therapist “how can I work on my own on this goal to address the symptom?” Oftentimes the therapist has a good idea of something’s free to try in small and/or large steps to work on your goals. An example of this was one therapist of mine recommended that I find a volunteer position to aid with my social and self-confidence goals.  This was something I could work on on my own and allowed me to maximize the time that I’m spending with the therapist on other things. The therapist can, if you want to, then check in with your progress on your homework and offer feedback and/or suggestions. This is completely optional but many people find it very helpful.

Obviously there are many many ways of utilizing therapy and you have to find what works well for you. These are just some options to explore and not direct advice or recommendations. I hope that each of you that utilizes psychotherapy finds a way that works for you.

Andrew Lopez is a Peer Support staff member at Chrysalis