Starting Therapy: 4 Ways to Get the Most Out of It

Starting Therapy | New Connections Counseling Center at Baltimore, MD

A recurring theme I hear a lot in therapy, both from clinicians and from clients, is the idea of a good therapist and good therapy. This can be particularly important when you are considering starting therapy.

Now, to be clear, I do think that some approaches are simply better for certain clients’ mental health concerns. For instance, I operate from a feminist and relational framework. These approaches are fantastic for helping folks understand their places within culture, family, and relationships and identifying what is working well and what is not.

Thinking about Starting Therapy?

Looking for insight and meaning? Fabulous! They are also fantastic approaches for folks who’ve experienced challenges around how society treats them due to their identities, whether we are talking homophobia, transphobia, or racism, etc. As a gay genderqueer therapist, these are my map to the world and therapy.

However, these are not necessarily what we would call intervention heavy approaches. If you’ve been thinking about starting therapy to help you maintain sobriety or manage panic symptoms, then learning about the central relational paradox and how it informs your way of moving through the world may not be very helpful (unless your panic really orients on relationships, but that’s a rabbit hole for another time). This is why I bring in other approaches like CBT, ACT, mindfulness, and distress tolerance skills. Particularly if you’re struggling with a specific mental health concern like anxiety, depression or trauma your therapist will want to bring in specific therapeutic interventions to help you.

The point is, that part of my work as a therapist is to work with a cohesive clinical framework and match you with what you need. It’s literally a core piece of my job and part of the expertise you’re paying to access.

What about the Client’s Role in Therapy?

Good therapist near me | New Connections Counseling Center at Baltimore, MDWhat I don’t hear spoken of nearly as often is the client’s responsibility in the therapeutic process. Yes, that’s right. Clients play a significant role in whether or not therapy is successful or fulfilling – one that is at least equal to the clinicians. The most talented and well-trained therapist can be ineffective if the client is not active in the process. How do you do that?

Glad you asked! I’ve compiled a shortlist of tips that may help you get more out of your therapy. Now, if you find that you fall into any of the pitfalls below, then don’t fret. Hopefully, this list will help you make some changes or at least communicate your difficulties to your current or future therapist. True to a feminist approach, this list assumes you are an equal and active participant in your treatment.

4 Ways to Get the Most Out of Therapy

1. Know What You Want To Work On

This likely seems very rudimentary, but it’s a frequent pitfall for clients. Your therapist is highly trained and empathic, but they are not psychic. You don’t need to have a treatment plan written out (again, that’s our job), but knowing where you want to begin each week when you’ve got multiple areas you want to work on, can help you get the most out of therapy.

A good practice is to make a mental or written checklist of things you’d like to discuss with your therapist during the days or weeks between appointments. I think a lot of clients are used to a prescriptive approach from healthcare providers and, to be sure, there are times that that is going to happen in therapy, but you’ll likely find therapy more engaging and helpful if you do part of the driving.

2. You Don’t Need to Wait for Your Therapist to Cover a Topic

Genderqueer therapist near me | New Connections Counseling Center at Baltimore, MDWhile on the topic of prescriptive approaches in healthcare, this brings me to the second tip. Your therapist may not know what parts of your challenges you find most pressing or important if you don’t tell them (what feels most pressing may also change over time).

A lot of friends and family in my life who see therapists frequently ask me, “When is my therapist going to ask about X or Y challenge?” To which I inevitably reply: “Probably when you start talking about it.”

Again, there are times therapists are going to be direct with this, especially if we sense you are avoiding areas crucial to your treatment. However, if there’s something you want to process or explore in treatment then bring it up! Most clinicians I’ve worked with over the years are excited and happy when clients let us into their world in this way. It shows us that you trust us and are engaged with therapy.

3. Practice What You Learn

My favorite analogy here is music lessons. If the only time you play the violin or piano is during your lesson, you’re only going to get better slowly…if at all. Therapy is no different. If you don’t put the insights and/or skills you learn in therapy to work outside of sessions then you’re not likely to see much progress. Insight can be cathartic and life-changing, but if not coupled with a change in your way of thinking or behaving, you might find yourself feeling stuck.

What if you’re finding it difficult to put skills and new behaviors into practice? Glad you asked.

4. Talk with Your Therapist about What You Need

Starting Counseling | New Connections Counseling Center at Baltimore, MDI end appointments with all clients by asking if they have any questions, comments, concerns, or complaints. The latter is both tongue-in-cheek and sincere. While I frame it in a funny way, I always want to give clients space to talk about what is working well for them and where we may need to reorient our approach. The majority of the time clients laugh, but sometimes it provides valuable feedback.

If I had a dollar for every client who has expressed that they had a “nice but unhelpful” therapist in the past, I could retire tomorrow (Rehoboth here I come). There’s a very important commonality amongst nearly all of these: the client never expressed this to the therapist. Most didn’t know that they were allowed to. Or they were worried that they’d hurt their therapist by doing so.

Here again, is where we return to the idea of a good therapist and good therapy. Your therapist has a lot of education, experience, and training, but they are not psychic. If you need a therapist to be more direct and proactive in the session: I encourage you to ask for it. If you need someone more reflective to hold the space for you: ask for it. Again, you might find that what you need changes over time.

To me, a good therapist is one who can take your feedback and incorporate it into a therapeutic approach that works for you.

Starting Therapy in Baltimore, MD

Starting Therapy with Baltimore therapist | New Connections Counseling Center at Baltimore, MDHave you been feeling on the fence about whether or not to start therapy? Starting therapy can be a very difficult decision, and also a life-changing one.

Therapy can be a wonderful tool in helping you make a change in your life. Whether that is helping you navigate aspects of identity like gender and sexual orientation, career, or identifying healthier ways of relating to yourself and others, we’re here to help. We have therapists who specialize in treating a wide range of mental health concerns including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, trauma and relationship issues. Whatever you are facing right now, you don’t have to go through it alone. Feel free to reach out with any questions. We are here to help!

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