Updated: Dec 13, 2020
If you have not had psychotherapy, counselling or mental health coaching before then it can seem a little daunting for knowing what you can do to make the most out of each session. Even if you have received therapy before, each practitioner can have such different styles that you still may want to view it with fresh eyes each time.
My approach is integrative, which means I draw on many different types of therapy approaches and techniques to suit the needs of you as my client. This style is sometimes known as eclectic when the therapist blends more than two types of therapeutic approach together.
If you know you want to talk about something pretty emotionally heavy for you during the next session, you'll want to take steps to emotionally prepare. This is attending to your self-care and needs before the session, which can include the day and night before, as well as the day of the session itself. Try to avoid unnecessary stress so that you aren't already emotionally and mentally fatigued before the session, this is so you can make the most of it.
During the session:
You may wish to bring a note pad or journal* with you to session so that you can jot down anything that feels important to you. Remember that you can go at your own pace and if anything is too painful and you aren't ready to look at it yet, then just say so to your therapist who should note it down as a topic for the future when you feel stronger to look at it then. There's no right or wrong with therapy, there isn't a specific order things need to be examined in, it's all up to you as the client and a therapist should not pressure you into visiting a topic that you do not want to visit.
There is a component to therapy known as "challenge" and that is that the therapist will, at some point, challenge your beliefs and views of a certain topic, person or event. This isn't a challenge in the sense of to say you are wrong or a confrontation; it is a challenge to allow you to view the subject or belief in question from different perspectives or angles. Doing so, can be freeing for you and mean that you are no longer limited by something.
After the session:
It is helpful to review the session when you leave and are in a safe place to do so. This can be jotting down anything that comes up to you as significant or scheduling into your personal agenda when you will review materials or homework or practice techniques.
It is also important to do some self-care again, especially if the session was emotionally heavy for you. You won't leave all sessions feeling boosted or happy.
If you feel particularly drained after heavy sessions then pay attention to the tasks you have after a session and whom you then spend time with. Everyone is different so what works best for you will vary. Some people need to be alone for a little while to process through, but some people will find it more helpful to be around loved ones. You may want something to drink or eat to "stabilise" or "ground" you.
Oftentimes though, you'll be fine and won't necessarily have to make any special preparations in adjustment to your routine.
A therapeutic relationship is supposed to feel supportive, in that you feel the therapist is working with you towards a goal and your should feel listened to and heard. Do not fall into the trap of thinking therapy isn't working if you are not at the point you wanted to be at. There are many reasons for slower progress than you'd have liked but you may need to review your expectations a little. You can also ask yourself these questions:
Have you been doing all of the things your therapist has given you for homework?
Have you actually given yourself time to reflect on a session afterwards?
Are you practicing the techniques your therapist has taught you or given you?
Are you attending sessions or missing them/consistently rearranging them?
Are the gaps between sessions too large for the time being?
Are you expecting the therapist to be "solving you" and are you putting in at least equal work as them?
Do you have a little niggling feeling that there is something you are holding back that could actually be key for your therapist to know, and thus give you the best support with?
*For structured journals, some are better than others and of course, this is highly individual. I can recommend the Magnificent Mental Health Workbook. To read more about why I love this for my clients and whom I believe it would best serve, read this blog post here.
I hope this has been helpful,
Authenticity, Balance, Love