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group therapy multi-ethnic group of adults are attending a mental health support group. They are listening to one woman sharing her problems.

It saddens me to say but, I know a few people who have been in therapy for years (some decades) and, clearly, it isn’t working for them. I don’t know who is to blame for that—the therapist? The patient? Probably a combination of the two. A lot of people like to believe that, just by showing up to therapy, they’re making progress. That isn’t entirely true. Everyone has the ability to zone out, to block out what someone is saying, and to completely black out an interaction. Someone may listen to their therapist but, not really hear what she’s saying. Therapy takes work. It’s interactive. And often, the work you need to do on yourself doesn’t stop when you leave the therapist’s office—you need to keep her words in mind the rest of the week. If you’ve felt frustrated with your therapy sessions, it’s possible that you just aren’t doing what you must to make the most of them. Here are ways to get the most out of one on one therapy.

woman in therapy African American man listens to female counselor give him advice.

Find the right personality for you

Not every therapist is right for every patient. You know yourself, and that you tend to open up more to certain personality types than others. Don’t be afraid to shop around. You won’t offend your therapist. And if you’re worried about changing therapists for cost reasons, don’t be; there are tons of ways to find affordable therapy, and through one of them, you’re bound to find a match.

woman in therapy of worried woman looking away. Young female is with hands clasped. She is against black background.

Don’t be afraid to cry

Your therapist is one of the people in front of whom you do not need to appear strong. In fact, you’re supposed to show your greatest weaknesses to her. So don’t fight the need to cry. You might actually find it quite helpful to just have a long, messy crying session in your first appointment. Then you get it out of the way, and can start talking.

woman in therapy woman sitting across the table from her therapist, receiving mental health counselling.

Forget about image

Therapy is the one place where your image—what you want to put out there or what you want people to think of you—doesn’t matter. Drop the façade in therapy. Don’t put on a show for your therapist. This is the place to show your true colors, and have no concerns or insecurities about which foot you put forward.

depressed woman woman drinking cup of coffee at home

There are no wrong thoughts

Never hesitate to tell your therapist about an upsetting or strange thought. There are no wrong thoughts. The only thing that could be wrong, really, is ignoring or denying thoughts. That’s when you give them power over you. Tell your therapist even your darkest thoughts, so you can work them out, understand them, and remove their power over you.

stress and anxiety shot of a young woman looking stressed-out while sitting in her car

There are no wrong actions

Your therapist is there to help you understand why you take certain actions—actions that are perhaps damaging to your life or to others. If you do something you’re ashamed of—even if it’s something your therapist explicitly told you not to do—tell her. She can only help you if she knows the truth about your life. By discussing the actions of which you are ashamed, you gain a chance of not repeating them.

therapy session of two women talking

Your therapist isn’t judging you

Your therapist is not judging you. Most therapists get into therapy because they believe that people are inherently good, and that humans are capable of great change and progress. If there is any judgment being passed, it is your therapist judging you positively for seeking therapy.

confessions Covering Mouth

Your therapist has heard it all

I promise you that you cannot shock your therapist. She has heard it all. She has heard confessions that may or may not have forced her to call the police. She will not think you are awful or offensive.

journaling for therapy African American student taking notes while trying to remember the things she has learned for her exams.

Keep a journal

Keeping a journal can help you track the incidents you’d like to discuss in therapy. If you feel or do something on Tuesday that you think your therapist should know about, you may forget it by your appointment on Friday. So keep a journal.

calendar appointment

Be consistent

Healing yourself should be your top priority. If you have personal work to do, every other task in your life will suffer until you do it. So this is a time to put other things aside, and make sure that you make that appointment, every time.

thinking about self care therapy smiling young woman sits on a couch in her living room and looks out the window for inspiration. She is writing in a note pad. There is coffee on the table.

Any detail may be important

Don’t question whether or not this or that detail is important. Tell your therapist everything, and let her decide if something requires attention. She is the professional, after all.

female friends discussing therapy having coffee

Don’t over-share with friends

It’s fine to tell friends, family, and romantic partners that you’re in therapy. But you may want to keep the details of your sessions private. If you start receiving everyone’s input on what your therapist says, you could interrupt the progress you’re making with your therapist.

thinking about therapy working on self care

Have an open mind

Remember that, you are going to therapy because you feel you need to make some changes in your life. So be willing to make them. Real progress doesn’t come easily and it can require you to have an open mind, and be willing to accept hard truths about yourself.

meditation self care woman at the beach sitting by the sea on rocks and watching the sunrise – lifestyle cocnepts

Do your homework

If your therapist assigns you homework, do it. Whether that is…journaling more, meditating daily, or something else that will help raise your awareness about your own behavior…do it.

woman doing yoga doing yoga exercises at the beach and stretching her arms and back – wellness concepts

Be patient

Depending on how much work there is to be done, therapy can take a long time. It could be a few months or even a few years before you feel real progress. The pain or issues you’re in therapy for didn’t occur overnight, and so neither will their healing.

therapy preparation African American woman drinking tea during autumn day in nature.

Accept that it’s a good pain

Therapy can be painful. Confessing certain thoughts and actions, and training yourself to stop certain actions, will come with growing pains. But remember that you’re putting yourself through this moderate, healthy discomfort now in order to prevent unhealthy habits that could cause you much greater, long-lasting pain.

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