Therapy can be a big waste of time. But therapy can also be one of the best things that could ever happen to you. What makes the difference is who you have as your therapist, how invested you are in treatment, how long treatment is, and the type of mental or emotional health challenge you are dealing with. As a therapist who has worked with a variety of people (children, teens, adults), some of the main complaints I tend to hear is “therapy is stupid,” “why should I open up anyways,” “they don’t care,” or “therapy never helps, it just makes me worse.” Therapy is even more of a “waste of time” to children and adolescents who are forced to be in treatment such as those who are on probation (court ordered to receive treatment), struggling within the educational system (and must be placed in a mental health/school-based program), or those who must be placed in long-term residential or group home care. It’s very challenging for individuals who are “forced” into therapy to adjust. But it is also difficult for the majority of us, who are not forced into treatment, to adjust. This article will explore 15 different ways to make therapy worth your time.
Therapy can truly feel like an empty conversation full of words when the fit between therapist and client is poor. Rapport building is one of the most important aspects of therapy. No hurting, confused, or needy human being wants to engage in therapy just to talk. Most narcissists enjoy this. But people who are needy truly want a human connection with someone who understands them, is empathetic about their needs, can relate or have some idea of how the person must feel, and exhibits patience and grace. Client’s who pursue therapy are often seeking a different experience than what they receive in conversation with family, friends, or strangers. Because of this, it is extremely important that therapists put effort into connecting with clients. This connection can begin during the rapport building stage when therapist and client talk, relate, and explore. In some therapist offices, this stage is either very short or doesn’t occur at all for various reasons. This makes the therapeutic journey as difficult as it can be to listen to nails on a chalkboard. When things get this bad, some client’s drop out of therapy completely.
As a result, it’s important that clients understand what they need, what they are looking for, and how they can achieve what they feel they need. The list below has often helped many of my own client’s and their families seek out the most appropriate “partner in crime” :
- Ask questions…lots of questions: It’s important to figure out, before your first meeting with a therapist, what kind of questions you need to ask to feel comfortable about therapy. For example, some clients are extremely shocked to find out that they may not be able to continue in therapy due to insurance concerns or issues. Some insurance companies will immediately stop paying a therapist if a therapist cannot provide “reasonable” justification for why you need continual treatment. Perhaps you are working on adjustment issues or grief/loss and do not need to work on your depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. This does not often matter to managed care who only seeks to pay for “necessary” services. Other important questions might include: cancellation policies, therapeutic style, level of experience and education, professional philosophy on life, availability during the week including nights, weekends, and holidays, and what to do if you would like to end treatment prematurely. A good therapist will openly discuss these matters with you and maintain a level of open communication that is respectful.
- Openly communicate with your therapist: If something just isn’t working for you, tell your therapist. Perhaps journaling triggers your negative emotions or flashbacks and isn’t helping you build insight. Maybe your Monday’s or Friday’s are the worst for you to cope with and you need to see your therapist on either of these days. Or maybe you need to see your therapist 2x a week during the anniversary of a deceased loved one. Whatever the case, talk about it with your therapist. Don’t just assume the kind of answer you’d get. Openly communicate and see what the answer to your questions or concerns might be.
- Call them out on things you felt negatively affected you: Therapists have bad days too and struggle with some o their own challenges (work, personal life, emotional health, medical health, etc). It’s okay, if you do it respectfully and tactfully, to say something like: “I don’t know if it’s just me but you seemed a bit disconnected from me yesterday and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t something I did.” You should feel comfortable enough with your therapist to express and explore how you are feeling. This can open up discussion about something you might need to work on in therapy or it could just simply cause your therapist to confirm your feelings and apologize.
- Get word of mouth: Online reviews can be a bit deceiving at times. It’s often very helpful to just ask around because you can gauge the truth by how someone begins to describe the therapist and his or her style. You can also look at body language or listen for tone of voice when asking about someone’s credentials or style. But this is difficult when reading an online review that could very well have been written by the therapist him or herself or by a close friend, family member, or colleague. But please don’t paint every therapist with a broad brush because some online reviews (especially for those who do most of their work online) are very powerful and accurate. Just explore your options.
- Give it time:Sometimes it take time to bond to your therapist or develop some kind of connection. We don’t all connect with each other at the same rate of speed or time. Some of us are slow to warm up, have trust issues, don’t click with certain personalities or styles, or are guarded to protect our own emotions. We need to test the waters before trusting someone with some of our darkest secrets and most intense emotions. Give it time.
- Jump ship when things aren’t working: If you have given therapy your time and effort and you just aren’t connecting, move on. It would be really nice if you would let your therapist know that you aren’t planning to return. It’s just courteous and allows the therapist time to make plans for your departure. I know this can be difficult for fear of disappointing the therapist, angering them, or having to deal with a therapist questioning your reasons for wanting to leave therapy. But I encourage all of my young clients to consider the pros and cons of talking to their therapist about leaving.
- Journal about your therapy sessions to build insight: Some therapists are bigger than others when it comes to journaling. If you like writing and spending time alone with your thoughts, journaling can be a very powerful tool in therapy (before, during, and after). Journaling can help you organize your thoughts, organize what you want to say in therapy, or process a topic discussed in therapy. If you don’t like writing, consider audio recording your thoughts. You can buy a very cheap take recorder and tape yourself speaking as if you are journaling about your day, your thoughts, or feelings. Consider sharing this with your therapist during session.
- Get a second opinion if you aren’t sure: Sometimes it is difficult to determine what is the best course of action. Should you leave or should you stay? Should you confront your therapist or should you not? Should you tell your therapist you aren’t happy in therapy or should you not? Making decisions is difficult. Consider asking someone around you what they would do or how they think you should proceed. I encourage you to only speak with people you trust or with people you know would never tell you what you want to hear.
- Educate yourself about your therapeutic topic: Some therapists are very “free-style” while others are very scripted. Those therapists who are scripted will most likely give you the names of the “tools” they are using or the techniques. You can also ask what kind of tools and techniques are being used. When you find out, Google them or research them. Educate yourself to what is happening to you in therapy. It’s always good to know what a therapist is doing in therapy. For example, if your therapist is using CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) and is challenging your inaccurate thoughts, this is called cognitive distortions. You can learn a lot about this online.
- Ask for a break from a session to re-assess progress: Sometimes therapy can get intense and you might struggle with emotions and thoughts. You might also begin to feel depressed or anxious. You might also find yourself having suicidal thoughts or struggling with everyday life because of what is being discussed in therapy. If this is the case, consider asking your therapist for a “time out.” You can have a time out from therapy (in some cases, primarily if managed care is not involved) for a few days or weeks. You can also ask your therapist about only having sessions on an “as needed basis.” This will give you time to re-assess things and determine how you want to proceed.
It’s important to be empowered in therapy. Being empowered means educating yourself, having a voice, and developing a respectful relationship with your therapist. You should never feel left out of the loop, confused, or forced to do anything in therapy. Therapists will challenge you to explore things and may even confront you to put some pressure on your to change and move forward. But if you ever feel negatively about therapy, re-assess where you are and consider making a change.
As always, I wish you well
Photo 2 by Amgad Fahmi Photography