Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Is Therapy Helping?

My expertise as a mediator and conflict resolution professional is buttressed by my background as a counselor, my insights about therapy, and my knowledge of people and their "blind-spots".  Read on to to determine if you're getting what you need out of therapy.
For some, when you've been in therapy for a while, you wonder if you're really getting the help you need.   Ask yourself, have you:
  •   Been going for months but are unsure if you’ve made any progress?
  •   Arrived at each session wondering what you are going to talk about?
  •   Lost track of the goals you are targeting?
If you answered "yes" to any of the previous questions, you’re probably not getting what you need out of therapy, and this article is for you.

What to Expect From Therapy

Therapy is Meant to Provide Change
Often people engaged in therapy find their sessions have become a way to vent their troubles and their frustrations.  And, many counselors are willing to let their client meander through therapy in this manner rather than focusing on the reasons their client is seeking help.  To get focused, ask yourself, why am I going to therapy?  What do I need help with?  It can be as simple as saying "I'm unhappy”, but then the spotlight of your therapy needs to be recapturing what makes you “happy".  An hour of complaining may make you feel better temporarily, but commiserating with a friend will often provide that same relief.  Therapy is intended to have a deeper and more profound impact by identifying the reasons you are stuck in an unhappy place.

Therapy is More Than an Hour a Week
Most people who meet with their therapist for one hour a week think that they are working on themselves. In reality, they are kidding themselves.  The truth of the matter is that the hour in session is just the starting point of your therapy.  The work of the patient is full-time.  When you are not in session, you need to focus on your issues, problems, and goals.  Think about what was discussed during the session, and further explore your own issues.

Therapy is Relatively Fast
While each of us has unique problems, and while there is no time-line for getting those problems worked out, the results of therapy should begin to reveal themselves fairly quickly. In my opinion, most patients should see some level of results within their first 5 sessions.  Result does not mean improvement - it means you feel change is underway.  Your therapist is helping reveal you to yourself (see below), and as a result changing the way you think, and the way you see the world.

Therapy Helps to Reveal Things that are Hidden
There are the things we know, the things we don't know, and the things we don't know that we don't know. That last group would best be referred to as "blind-spots" and we all have them.  These blind-spots are the crux of most therapy, as a therapist's role is to guide you and help you to learn about yourself, by uncovering these unknowns.  As you do, change comes easy.

What to Expect from Your Therapist

Challenges to Your Thinking and Your Viewpoint
We all think we are normal and believe that the rest of the world views things the same way as we do. Unfortunately, our perspective is skewed by our own individual life experiences. This returns to the concept of "blind-spots".   A counselor's role is to discuss both what you think, and why you think it.   By examining the distortions within our own reality, we are impacted in the way we view the world and therefore the way that we live.  

Being Pushed 
Your therapist is not there to be your friend. She must do more than listen and nod her head.  If you aren't talking about important topics, she should push you to do so. Ultimately, your therapist's role is to help you see yourself more clearly.  Does your view of yourself (or the world) match others?  Do you see things in a distorted way?  A therapist needs to do more than listen.  She needs to challenge you to examine your own thought processes.

As I mentioned before, therapy does not end at the end of your session time.  Whether it is described as "homework" or not, you should always leave therapy with new things to explore, new things to think about.  A therapist might ask you a question during your session that you can’t answer.  Something as simple as "Why do you think that way about ...?"  If you don’t know, finding out is your homework. As soon as you leave the session, before you even drive back to the office or your home, write down that question.  Make it a point to think about that question until you have an answer.  I recommend doing this "homework" alone -don't cheat by asking others for the answer to your question.  Start your next session by discussing this self-revelation with your therapist.

Choosing the Right Therapist (or improving therapy with the one you have now)

Selecting a Therapist
Like choosing a professional in any arena -you should ask some basic questions to get a feel for the person, and to decide if you want to give them a shot. Remember, the ultimate test is how you feel when you begin working with them.   It's perfectly acceptable to have one or two sessions with a therapist before you fully commit to working with him.  However, you do need to begin your work during those initial sessions - if you don't then you can't judge the ability of that therapist to help you.  Remember, you're looking for someone you can trust and who shows insight into your world, you are not looking for your new best friend.

Getting Back on Track with Your Current Therapist
Most of us don't like to start over, and often times there are ways to improve the relationship with your current therapist.  For starters, you’ll need to speak with her about your desire to make real change.  Then clearly and honestly communicate with her about what you want, and perhaps the changes you'd like her to make.  If you want her to be more direct with you, say so.  If you need to be pushed to open up, tell her.  Most therapists will happily make such style changes - after all your success is their success.