Whether you are looking for help with long-term trauma, or simply looking for help managing your weight, seeing a psychologist for therapy can be daunting. There can be a lot of stigma associated with therapy, and even without that it is still an expensive process where the outcomes can be quite uncertain. So how do you navigate the maze and make sure you’ve got the best chance of reaching the goals you have set for yourself?
1. Remember that you are in charge of your treatment
A psychologist brings years of training and experience to assist in helping you, but you have got to feel that you are in charge. If you feel like your psychologist is saying things that don’t ring true, speak up. If you don’t think you and your therapist have the same goals, make sure they know, and if you don’t understand their approach, or don’t think it will work make sure you tell them. A good psychologist is open to feedback and recognizes that they don’t always get it right.
2. Take notes
Often a therapy session can be a mix of ideas and feelings and insights. Some of these turn out to be incredibly important, while others aren’t. I always find that my clients who take a few notes either in session, or within the next day or so seem to get better faster.
3. Have an agenda
Therapy should be focused with clear goals for each session. Did you and your therapist agree on some things you were going to try between sessions? If so, be prepared to talk about how that went, what worked and what didn’t work. Outcome research shows that when therapy involves actual tasks outside session, the gains are bigger. If there were important things that happened between sessions that you want to tell your therapist, have a think about them beforehand. Do you want to spend the whole session on one major issue because it is so important, or do you simply want to let your therapist know about the issue because it is important. One of my clients last week said I should charge for “Phantom appointments”. I asked her what she meant, and she explained that every time she came to see me she put so much work into thinking about how to explain things to me that she had often solved the problem.
4. Measure outcomes
The evidence is growing stronger every year that psychologists who routinely measure progress (every session) get better outcomes than those who don’t. But the most important measure of outcome is your own goals. What do you want from therapy? Do you want to be able to give that talk in front of your workmates and feel confident, do you want the nightmares to stop, do you want to feel happier? Whatever it is you want from therapy you should always be asking yourself “Am I getting any closer to achieving my goal?”
5. Keep going with therapy while it is helpful
Both research and my own experience tells me that for many people the biggest gains in therapy happen in the early sessions. This often means you can expect to start feeling better quickly. But the research also tells me that that longer you stay in therapy the more improvement you can expect, and the lower the chance of slipping back. So if you are feeling that therapy is working, stick with it.
6. Don’t keep going with therapy that isn’t helping
Unfortunately, the outcome research also tells us that some people do not benefit from therapy. If you feel like you are just “checking in” with your psychologist and not really getting any better, then it is important to ask yourself if you would be more likely to get better seeing someone else. Long-term therapy can be incredibly powerful and beneficial, but this should be something you and your therapist have agreed in in advance. Some problems take longer than others. But if therapy was agreed as short term and is not actually helping then you should discuss your options with your psychologist.
Psychological therapy is incredibly effective for many people (60 – 80% will experience noticeable improvements). While that means that some people won’t be helped by therapy, it means that a lot will. Why not give yourself the best chance of recovery by taking charge of your treatment. Feel free to share this article with a friend who is undertaking psychological therapy or who is thinking about it.