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Therapy Success: How to get the most out of Therapy

Finding a psychologist and building a new therapeutic relationship can be a confusing and intimidating process. How do you find a therapist? What do you look for? How do you get the most out of your therapy hour? These are all common questions people have when starting on their journey to wellness. This blog post will include some tips on how to set yourself up for success before you start a new therapeutic relationship, during your time together and between sessions.

Finding the right therapist for you

The therapeutic relationship is one of the most important factors for satisfaction and positive therapeutic outcome. Finding a therapist that is a good fit for you is important, so shop around and ask lots of questions to find someone who you will work well with. Reading the psychologists’ profile, checking out their website and blog are all good methods of getting more information on how they work. Many psychologists also offer a free consultation, which is a good chance to ask questions and learn more.

How do I find a therapist and make sure they are qualified?

Although there are many referral service options out there, Psychology Today and the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta referral service are two reliable sources you can use to find a professional.

When searching for a new therapist it is important to ensure you are receiving services from a qualified professional. Psychologists are trained in evidence-based treatment methods and follow a code of ethics that promotes respect for dignity and fair treatment. To check if your potential clinician is a Registered Psychologist or Registered Provisional Psychologist (i.e., a psychologist under the supervision of a Registered Psychologist), you can conduct a search in the College of Alberta Psychologists’ member directory.

What should I look for?

Every clinician has different treatment methods, techniques and approaches to therapy: some of which may work well for you and some which may not. When you are consulting with your potential therapist some questions you could consider asking include:

· What are your areas of specialization and training?

· What therapeutic methods and approaches do you use?

· What values drive your clinical practice or how do you approach change with your clients?

· What are your available hours and where/when/how do you offer sessions (e.g. online, in-person, or phone sessions)?

· What are the benefits and risks of starting therapy with you?

· What are your fees for therapeutic services? Are there any other costs I should be aware of (e.g. report writing, form completion)?

· Do you provide resources and/or tasks to complete between sessions?

So you are ready to book a session or are already in therapy, now what?

Now that you have found a new therapist or you are already attending sessions, how can you optimize your experience? Read on to find out!

Remember, timing is important!

Therapy can be hard, emotionally trying, and exhausting at times. Be mindful when you schedule your sessions so that you don’t mess up your busy schedule and can attend your session. Schedule your appointment at a time that is convenient and when you can give it your upmost attention. If you know that you are going to have an emotional or deep session, perhaps consider scheduling that at a time where you can have some down-time afterwards to take care of yourself. Scheduling your appointment right before a big meeting with your boss or a final exam may not be the best idea, as you may not be able to dedicate all your attention to it.

Prepare for your sessions

We prepare for your sessions so you should too! I generally prepare for sessions by reviewing your file, including your goals, progress and treatment plan, and by setting up my office. I always recommend my clients have a similar process: contemplate or read over your goals, think about what you want out of todays session and what agenda items you would like to work on, get yourself set up in a quiet space free of distractions, say a mantra, do a little wiggle dance: whatever you need to do to get settled!

Before every session I always recommend eating something, as fuel in your body can help your brain focus and be prepared to work. Some people also find it helpful to do some mental exercises or brain prep to get themselves into the right headspace for therapy. Some people find it helpful to do something physical such as some light stretching or a good workout. Do whatever works for you!

For those of you that like checklists, here is a handy list of things you can do to prepare for your sessions

· Eat something

· Light stretching or exercise

· Review goals, progress/changes since last session and what you want to get out of todays session

· Mental preparation: say a mantra, use your mental container, visualize your change, etc.

· Find a quiet space, free of distractions

· Office prep:

o Paper & pen, notebook or therapy journal

o Tissues

o Water

o Headphones

o Technology check: mic, sound, internet working?

Actively participate

Therapy is not a passive process: you get out what you put into it. Collaborate with your clinician to set your goals, explore treatment options, and to evaluate your progress. We love feedback and if the therapeutic approach or style is not a good fit: tell us! There is not one therapeutic method or approach that works for everyone, so if something isn’t working let us know so we can help you find some alternative options that may be a better fit.

During therapy, be honest with your therapist. Although your psychologist may have some superior people skills, they are not a mind reader so speak up! No you don’t have to tell us every deep dark secret you’ve ever had, but the more honest you are the more we can help you in the way that works for you.! We can’t help what we don’t know about. The therapeutic process can be scary or intimidating but try to be open to suggestions and trust in the therapeutic process.

Set goals and milestones for change

Therapy is about change: changing who you are, how you behave, how you feel, how you cope. Having an idea of what life may look like or how you will be different once the therapeutic relationship has come to an end can help you and your therapist figure out what to changes you are working towards. Your goals may be general such as getting stress relief or working on your coping skills, or they may be more specific such as reducing the number of panic attacks you have.

Mange your expectations

Therapy is not necessarily quick, simple or easy: it comes it ebbs and flows. Sometimes things get more difficult before they get easier, sometimes it takes longer or shorter than expected to get the change you desire: that is ok. Everyone experiences therapy and change in their own way: there isn’t a right or wrong amount of time to be in therapy.

Understanding your role and your therapist’s role in the therapeutic relationship can help you manage your expectations. Your therapist is there to “fix” your problems for you or tell you what is best in your life. Your therapists’ role is to make suggestions and help you figure out what is going to work best in your life. Your therapist is there to help give you the skills you need to problem solve, to cope with negative events and emotions, set goals, and support you.

Outside of session

While many people think that the therapeutic change happens in session, that is not always true. In between sessions it is important to continue the great therapeutic work you started with your therapist during session.

Do your homework

Many clinicians will suggest homework or tasks outside of session for you to try. Putting the skills and suggestions into practice outside of session can help further your progress, foster further learning, solidify change, and cultivate independence and resiliency. In addition, practicing the skills you learned outside session can also help you figure out what works for you and what doesn’t: feedback you can then take to your next session to help you and your therapist tailor your treatment plan for you. Your homework assignments should be meaningful and relevant to your therapeutic goals, in order to get the most out of this process.

Reflect on your experience

I always suggest my clients start a therapy journal. A therapy journal is a great place to keep track of your goals, progress, changes, and the skills you learn inside and outside of session. Reflecting on what is working in therapy and what is not working for you can help you and your therapist determine the best next steps to take. Monitoring your emotions, tracking your thoughts and reflecting on your progress can also help you increase your knowledge about yourself and increase your resiliency.

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