Until now, there seems to be a stigma attached to the idea of acknowledging the need for and getting help from a professional psychotherapist. What many people don't realise is that psychotherapy is one of the best approaches in the treatment of mental health issues, ranging from anxiety disorder to substance abuse, depression and so on. Apart from helping you deal with such issues, psychotherapy also offers an avenue to learn life skills that can make you happier, healthier and more productive.
You need not be mentally ill before seeing a therapist. The truth is that every one of us goes through emotional distress at one point in our life. There are times when we can't seem to make a good decision, we lack motivation, and we feel pessimistic. In situations like this, it really is helpful to find someone who can help us tackle our issues in a non-judgemental way, uncover the real reasons of why we feel that way, and guide us to a brighter perspective.
Getting the most out of your therapy
How long you undergo psychotherapy depends on the issues you have and your progress. According to a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, about 42 per cent of people in psychotherapy stay for 3 to 10 visits, while 1 in 9 receive more than 20 sessions.
Whilst a big part of the treatment success lies in the hands of your therapist, the rest depends on you. In therapy, there should be a joint effort between the patient and the therapist. The more effort you exert, the more productive the outcome and the better you will feel. You don't just sit there and answer your therapist's questions. Psychotherapy is a highly interactive and action-oriented process. And you are in the driver's seat. Your therapist is just there to help and guide you.
Now, knowing that you have a role to play in the success of your therapy, what can you do to get the best results?
Define your goals.
There are different reasons why people seek psychotherapy. But in most cases, people don't know their reasons - all they know is that they don't feel well, mentally and emotionally. A good therapist will ask necessary questions to help you express your goals. However, it is also helpful to clarify them for yourself and even write them down and bring them into session. Having a clear understanding of your psychotherapy goals can help you track your progress, and assist in making a treatment plan that works best for you.
Accept the truth.
There's no point in denying those feelings anymore. You have decided to seek therapy, so give yourself the opportunity to see your relationships and circumstances in a more honest light. A crucial part of the healing process is acknowledging what is wrong or what the problem is.
Reveal yourself, and voice out your concerns.
It really takes courage (lots of it) to tell a stranger about the most sensitive issues you are dealing with. That is why it is important that you choose a therapist who you feel comfortable with. And as the therapy proceeds and you still find it difficult to trust your therapist, you may want to raise this concern as soon as possible. Don't be afraid to ask your therapist to explain anything you don't understand, even if asking the question may reveal that you're not as knowledgeable as you think you should be. If you disagree with your therapist's technique or recommendations, voice your disagreement and invite a discussion about it. While therapists are trained to observe different forms of communication, they are not mind readers.
Do your homework.
A 50-minute session can go by fast. Your therapist will often give you tasks or activities that you need to do, such as listing down what you are grateful for, writing a letter to yourself, and so on. Don't consider them as additional burden. It is actually a way of augmenting the hard work done in session. Most importantly, it can keep you connected to your mind and body.
Bring a notepad to jot down ideas, tips, exercises, or resources suggested by your therapist. There's a lot going on in session and with so many different ideas floating around your head, you may not remember some of the important points discussed.
Be prepared to feel uncomfortable.
Relieving those traumatic, heart-wrenching events and experiences or talking about them is never easy. But it's where healing begins. A good therapist knows when to alter the pace and direction of the intervention. Just be honest about what material or approach is most comfortable for you.
Take care of yourself.
Small lifestyle tweaks can significantly increase your sense of well-being, which helps a lot in the treatment process. Apart from proper diet and regular exercise, you also want to health practices for your emotional and mental health. These include relaxation exercises, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and visualisation exercises. Other helpful tips include getting enough sleep, taking a time off to get quality relaxation, spending more time with friends and family, and avoiding the use of alcohol, cigarettes or drugs.
The success of psychotherapy does not only depend on the therapist you choose. You also have a role to play. By defining your goals, accepting the truth (and the idea that therapy can sometimes feel uncomfortable), actively participating in every session, voicing out your concerns, taking notes, doing your homework, and taking care of yourself, you can make the most out of therapy.