Therapists aren’t allowed to have favorite clients. Nope. All therapists must remain objective and give the same basic types of attitudes to every single client, such as:
- Unconditional Positive Regard
- Empathic Listening
In fact if your goal is to impress your therapist, you might want to rethink why you’re in therapy in the first place. Therapists have flaws, and are just as human as the rest of the population…unless you’re an academic psychologist, those guys are just weird. I’m joking.
So, here are three things that impress me as a counselor. And I’m sure they’d impress other therapists too. Now, before I give you this list, I want to make sure that you know that I accept that all my clients have strengths and weaknesses. I accept that they have good days and bad days. I accept that it takes time, dedication and patience for a client to learn and develop new skills and new ways of thinking. It’s a process, and that process is delicate. But despite those facts, there are still things clients can do to help the therapeutic process.
Here’s my list:
1. Show Up To Therapy
It’s a no brainer, right? Well, I’d like to think it is. And most of my clients are fairly good in this department. But I’ve had my share of clients who don’t show up to therapy. And from talking to other therapists, it’s a common part of the profession. Therapy is scary. It’s hard to feel like going to therapy. It’s hard to be excited about it. It’s similar to exercise. Or going to the dentist. Unless you’re one of those fitness fanatics, or people who like pain, the idea of running for half an hour might seem daunting. The idea of having needles and drills put into your mouth might be off putting. Might be? Okay, definitely!
I understand that showing up to therapy can take a backseat to almost anything in light of the discomfort it can cause while it’s in progress. But just like exercise, the benefits are usually delayed (being fit, looking toned). The dentist, the benefits are avoiding rotting teeth and painful extractions.
So try and show up. Even if you don’t think you’ll give it 100%, just going is a huge accomplishment, it’s one of the hardest accomplishments of therapy and without actually showing up, therapy can’t help you.
2. Do Your Homework
Doing homework is like taking medicine. If you get a prescription for homework, you do it. You’ll need that completed homework to fight what’s causing you problems. I’m a big believer in assigning homework to clients. Clients lives don’t take place in the therapy room. They take place at work, or at home, or at the pub, or at their hobby groups, or on their cell phones. And in those scenarios, clients need to take what they’ve learned in therapy and apply it to the real world. The therapy room is a simulation of the real world, but it is a special simulation formulated to increase realistic thinking, reward positive behavior, develop healthy social interaction and communicate in an optimal manner.
When a therapist gives you mindful meditation to do once a day. By golly, do it. The benefits of mindfulness are numerous. Here’s a link. If your therapist asks you to follow your thinking patterns and behaviors. Do it. You cannot change your thoughts unless you know what they are, what triggers them and how you react. If your therapist tells you to come up with strengths, pros and cons, ways to find fulfillment in your love life. Sit down, think hard, and don’t stop until you’ve come up with those answers.
Homework is vital to effective therapy. It provides the structure for the therapist. It allows your therapist to gauge how well you’re coping, what areas you need to work on and what issues need addressing.
3. Say Goodbye
At one point or another, as a client you’re going to leave therapy. Whatever reason you’ve decided to leave therapy, you need to have one last session with your therapist to wrap things up. If you’re leaving therapy earlier than recommended, swallow your anxiety and make that last session. The work you’ve been doing needs a backup plan. That plan is there to make sure that the skills you’ve learned will continue to play a role in your life so you don’t slip back into old, unhelpful coping habits.
If you can’t face your therapist in saying goodbye, call them up on the phone. You and the therapist need closure. If you’re unhappy with your therapist, then tell them. Communicate. Therapists aren’t perfect, they can’t read your mind and if you don’t tell them how you feel about therapy or the process then they can’t change anything.
One of the goals of therapy is to create assertive communication skills. To encourage clients to ask for what they want while listening to the needs of others. If your need is for your therapist to listen more, to focus on another problem you’re having, to not tell so many anecdotes, to charge you less money for sessions. Ask.
If your need is to leave therapy. Tell them. Allow your therapist to do what they do best, and that is to help you take the steps necessary to ensure that you got the most out of the therapeutic process.
On a last note. And this might not even surprise you.
The three things listed above are also associated with positive therapy outcomes. What does that mean? As a client if you show up to therapy, do your homework and make sure you leave therapy by saying goodbye then you’ll be more likely to resolve or improve whatever problems were affecting you.