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How to Get the Most out of Therapy Sessions

You're not alone—4 in 10 American adults have seen a therapist in their lives.

According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are more than 577,000 mental health professionals practicing in the U.S. today whose primary focus is the treatment (and/or diagnosis) of a mental health or substance abuse concern. An estimated 106,500 psychologists possess current licenses in the United States. California (17,890), New York (12,020), and Pennsylvania (5,620) have the most licensed psychologists. Overall, four in 10 American adults (42 percent) have seen a counselor or therapist at some point in their lives.

If you’re currently in therapy or considering therapy, as you can see, you’re not alone, and there are literally thousands of therapists that you can choose from. In fact, 19.1 percent of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2018 (47.6 million people). This represents one in five adults, according to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

As a New York-based therapist for almost 25 years, my primary aim is to create an environment that will make my clients feel comfortable being vulnerable and not feel judged. My fundamental approach at its core is to develop a reciprocal relationship between us that encourages honesty and transparency. We all develop our own personal approach to nurturing productive relationships with our clients.

6 strategies to help you form a better reciprocal relationship with your therapist

Here are several considerations that I would encourage you to think about that will assist you in forming a healthy and reciprocal relationship with your therapist.

1. At the onset of treatment, I always ask my clients what they would like to work on, so we can focus on the primary issues and reasons they’re seeking therapy. I feel it’s critical that the client be the one to set the goals of treatment, not the therapist.

2. If we stumble upon something else during a session, I’ll ask the client if it’s something they’re interested in exploring more in-depth, or if they want to leave it alone. People are interested in looking into different aspects/behaviors of their lives at different times. I believe treatment is most effective when a client is interested and motivated to work on a specific issue as opposed to it being foisted upon them at inopportune times.

3. Have you ever heard of the term “psychobabble”? It's when a mental health professional speaks using terms alien to a layperson, which can confuse the listener. Besides confusion, this can also create an unequal power dynamic between therapist and client, which can be avoided. I try my best to keep my vernacular “real.” I encourage my clients to stop me whenever they feel I have veered into “psychobabble” territory, so I can re-frame and simplify what I want to convey.

4. I advise my clients to confront me if anything bothers them that might have occurred in the therapy session. This could range from something I said that didn’t sit right with them during the session or on reflection. There are also times when a client may want to challenge me on a homework assignment that they felt was too hard.

5. I strive to maintain full transparency with my clients. I want them to inform me if they feel the current path we’re on isn’t helping them attain the goals they had aspired to achieve.

6. The therapist and client relationship should be strong enough to handle therapeutic differences and confrontations. I want to assure and let them know that my self-concept is strong enough to handle constructive criticism or differences in opinions during our conversations.

I believe employing these strategies creates an environment that will empower and motivate my clients to feel “seen” without worrying about being judged. I don’t want to make them feel therapy is a race or that they’re supposed to satisfy someone else’s agenda.

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Source: Shutterstock

We’re all flawed, and as a therapist, I’m no different. The flaws we choose to work on should be ours to choose from. No one knows what you need to work on better than you.

A degree in psychology hopefully comes with the knowledge of how to create a safe environment for a client as well as a skill set to help move him/her forward on their path. It doesn’t come with the knowledge to know you better than you do.

Most importantly, if at any point during your therapy, you feel that it has become unhealthy, toxic, and not productive, don’t be afraid to leave. There are many very talented therapists to choose from. The key is to find the therapist that works the best for you.

References

"Americans Feel Good About Counseling, Barna.com, February 27, 2018

"Mental Health By the Numbers," Nami.org, 2018

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