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When you decide to work with a therapist it is because you have decided that some type of change is needed. So right from the beginning you need to prepare yourself to accept the reality of change. In order to make a meaningful change you need to identify both old patterns which did not work for you and new ways of addressing people and situations differently. Here are some ways you can work with a therapist to make the changes you desire:
1. Make an effort to be honest with yourself and the therapist about areas you need to change. Explore thoughts, feelings and behaviors related to your situation with the therapist.
2. Expect probing and sometime personal questions from the therapist. Be open, however, if you are not ready to discuss an area tell the therapist and re-visit the area when you are ready.
3. Discuss both your issues which require change and your strengths. If you have made successful changes in the past let the therapist know. Discuss the personal and social conditions which led to past changes. Your strengths and past achievements are very important to the change process.
4. Together with the therapist try to identify the very first practical steps you can take to initiate the change process. Make these steps obtainable. In fact, it is best to identify steps you can accomplish between sessions. The idea of SMART goals may facilitate this process:
Realistic or Relevant
5. Understand that change is an evolving process and that it can evoke some discomfort and confusion. Your perceptions of self and others may shift as you proceed. This is a normal part of psychotherapy and life itself. So your initial goals may go through revisions and your course of therapy may also be altered.
Getting the Most Out of Therapy:
1. Visualize success: Imagine yourself being at a different place and time. See yourself actualizing your desired changes. Most people do benefit from psychotherapy. By seeing yourself actively different you will promote growth and change.
2. Speak up: Let the therapist know what you want out of therapy. If you are not comfortable with an approach or something the therapist has said or done tell him/her. An effective therapist will adjust his/her approach for each client.
3. Be prepared: Before coming to the session review in your mind what you want to work on. Focus more on seeking solutions to personal situations then solely discussing problems. Written agenda for the session will help keep you focused on your goals.
4. Write it down: When you identify both successes and difficulties write it down with some detail. Record thoughts, feelings, behaviors and the desired outcome. This written record will help you track progress and discuss situations in detail with the therapist. A written record is often more accurate then memory. Also consider taking notes during the therapy session. This can help you recall key areas you are working on and ways to promote goal related behavior.
5. Do your homework: Most progress and positive changes occur between therapy sessions. Be determined to actively work on the change process between therapy sessions. Many experienced and effective therapist will provide clients with actual “homework” to be completed between sessions. You will get the most “bang for your buck” by actively completing your homework. A written record of home-work completion will promote change.
6. Don’t miss sessions: Ideally, psychotherapy should be time limited with a proposed date of completion. So if you stay focused and attend each session, it is more likely you will reach your goal for change. Missing sessions will delay completion and slow down progress. It is O.K. to plan to miss a session. However, a pattern of missed appointments will simply delay you reaching your personal goals.
7. Stay motivated: Some patterns of behavior may take a bit longer to change. You may feel you are running out of patience. Nevertheless, change can and will occur. Focus on any and all small successes. Even the desire to change is a meaningful stepping stone. Celebrate your progress by simply being mindful of even the most minor changes you have made. Think about and appreciate these changes. Motivation is often mind over matter!
8. Be creative: Clients can contribute to the therapy process by suggesting new and different ways of addressing a problem. Stop and think for a second... “what if I change the order or look at the problem from another vantage point”. Often times it is much easier to change how you view a stressful situation then actually change the stressful situation. One innovation often leads to another.
9. Be accepting: Often people want more and don’t appreciate what they have. Yes, things could be better. Nevertheless, by appreciating what you have, you may discover inner resources which will help you reach your goals. You may realize through your experiences at work or home you have already accomplished much that can help you make changes. Also accepting yourself may boost self-confidence and motivation. Explore ways of self-acceptance with your therapist. Your therapist may help you identify abilities and personal attributes you have taken for granted.
10. Be aware and acknowledge change/progress: The final and most important stage of psychotherapy is identifying and appreciating changes that you have made. You may be a bit calmer at work or less anxious in interpersonal relationships. Your mood may be slightly brighter, but you may still wonder if you are really happier. These gains are important, but may not seem as significant as you expected when entering psychotherapy. Keep in mind that most importantly you have experienced the desired changes. Progress and change can and will occur even after you stop seeing your therapist. With effort and use of skills learned in therapy, you can continue to build on these changes.
Track your continued progress and set new goals as needed. At some point you may need to return to psychotherapy for a new problem or a relapse. Working together with your psychotherapist you may tackle new challenges with greater ease. Remember to focus on your past gains to continue growing and reaching new goals.