Tips for Clients in Therapy

As a therapist I have an advantage in the therapy office. I have read a stack of books and spent thousands of hours learning from different “styles” and what to do in session. Clients may also be sceptical and have to learn as they go, costing them valuable time and money. Here are a few pointers to help clients level… the playing.

15 Tips for Clients in Therapy

  1. The 50 minutes Hour: There is a long standing mystique about the therapeutic “hour”. I put the word hour in quotes because the therapy session traditionally consists of fifty minutes, never a full sixty.  Get your money’s worth by arriving 10 minutes early to catch your breath, collect your thoughts and prepare for your session. Based on Ernest L. Rossi’s book “Twenty Minute Break”, seeing clients for 90 minutes could actually achieve better results [based on Ultradian rhythms]. Ask me why, if you wish to know more about it.
  2. The Time is Now: The therapist is in charge of ending the session on time. You’ve got enough to think about during the session to worry about “the clock”, relax, the therapist is responsible for wrapping up.
  3. Apply changes: A therapist is like a personal trainer that will advise and encourage you, but cannot ‘do’ it for you. Therapy works best when you take what you’ve learned and apply it to the rest of your week. Between sessions, notice areas in your life you’d like to explore. I wonder if you realize all of the benefits you will get when…..
  4. Keep records: Making notes on tablets and smart-phones can help your sessions. Jot down things you notice, your thoughts, feelings and dreams during the week. Bring them to session with you.
  5. Payment: Ask in advance fees and how to pay for the session(s). Worth asking if there is a discount for pre-paid sessions. Payment is very often due at the end of session. Cash is the easiest form of payment followed by cheques. Bank transfer payments can also be made via smart-phones these days.
  6. Sessions: Discuss a therapy plan with the therapist. How many sessions are needed and how often you should attend. At the beginning, ideally, you should see the therapist once a week for the first four weeks. Feel free, at any time, to terminate therapy. You do not have to give any reasons.  It would be courteous to inform the therapist (email or SMS will do).   Should you have any issues, questions or concerns, you must feel free to address them at the earliest possible opportunity with your therapist.
  7. Why am I here? You may have attempted to cope with the problem yourself and may have even discussed it with family, friends or peers. But you know you need professional help when nothing has worked, when you are unable to carry out your obligations. Focus on your feelings, get a good rapport with your therapist and let it all out. A good therapist is open and willing to understand your concerns, he is not judgmental or critical of your behaviour, lifestyle, or problems, and confidentiality is a respected part of psychology’s code of ethics.
  8. Ask questions: There should be no boundaries between you and your therapist. Anything related to therapy issues and concerns should come up during conversation. As therapists have spent thousands of hours reading and learning, they could also be the source of useful information.
  9. Check the Evidence: Therapy is more about helping you come to your own conclusions than having the therapist make decisions for you. Therapy is ideally a two-way discussion, with both of you sharing your thoughts. Why do you act the way you do? Allow yourself to feel/think/behave as if you do not have to follow any rules.
  10. Avoiding Jargon:  Clarity is especially critical in such disciplines as psychology and psychiatry, where most phenomena, such as emotions, personality traits, and mental disorders, are “open concepts”.  Jargon concerns the language of psychology and its effects on clients. Should the therapists says some gibberish you don’t understand – ask him what he/she means.
  11. Full steam: What might have began as a “simple” mental health issue it might have turned into something else during therapy. Now could be the time to address deeper issues that you have been avoiding. Discuss what you’re discovering about yourself. Take the time to explore who you are, what you feel and why you do what you do;  tackle deeper questions.
  12. Terminating therapy: If all queries, concerns and questions are resolved, there are no reasons to carry on with therapy. You might wish to visit the therapist once or twice a year to “resolve doubts” but good therapy should achieve goals within months. [New patients tell me how former therapists sat, listened, nodded and offered little or no advice, for weeks, months, sometimes years.  A patient recently told me that, after seeing her therapist for several years, she asked if he had any advice for her. The therapist said, “See you next week.”]. A 2001 study published in the Journal of Counselling Psychology found that patients improved most dramatically between their seventh and tenth sessions. Some cases might take longer than others but, remember, don’t be afraid to ask on progress and outcome.
  13. Sweet Dreams: While this is part of my “umbrella” of different approaches (multi-modal therapy) not many therapists inquire about dreams. Sigmund Freud once called dreams the “royal road to . . . the unconscious”. Working on dreams is an important therapeutic technique – bring dreams (daydreams and fantasies too), to therapy.
  14. Allow Changes: While some people are looking for change, they actually feel uncomfortable when it happens; they remain resistant to change or modification. It’s not uncommon to find change uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking. So when we need to do something new (or even harder—to do something old in a new way), it takes conscious effort. That’s not easy. Humans can be very vulnerable to the confirmation bias—we pay more attention to information that confirms what we believe. If you are aware that your mind and even your body are resisting a change, consciously try to take in positive information.  Ask broad questions and force yourself to listen for the benefits in the answers. It is natural to resist a change if you think you won’t be able to succeed in the new world. Instead of expending energy fighting it, use your energy on building your skills
  15. Enjoy: Children and adults can and do benefit from therapy when appropriate diagnoses are made and related life issues are understood. Therapists possess sufficient knowledge of the condition being treated, an appropriate treatment plan is developed and in particular, the therapist understands the critical human role he or she plays facilitating the treatment process. Whether you want to lose weight or make a significant “life” change, talking to a professional therapist can help you get over those mental blocks you encounter with any challenge. You can see the problem without feeling overwhelmed with anxiety or sadness even though the problem is still there. In that way, therapy can help you recontextualize the problem you’re dealing with in order to make a strategy to help you move forward.