Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/8/2022
Here’s the truth: anyone and everyone can benefit from therapy. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health says that it can be helpful for anyone who is dealing with stress, has difficulty focusing, is going through a life change or is feeling overwhelmed. So, like we said — everyone!
But just showing up to therapy isn’t going to solve your issues. You have to take it seriously, participate and put in the work. If you don’t do these things, you won’t get what you want out of your therapy journey.
Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to ensure you take full advantage of therapy.
Before you learn ways to make the most of your therapeutic experience, it’s helpful to have a solid understanding of therapy.
When people refer to therapy, they are most often referring to talk therapy — a modality that aims to help people navigate psychological issues so that they can be healthier and happier, thereby improving their quality of life.
There are many different types of therapy. Depending on your reasons for seeking help, one of the following may be recommended to you:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): In this form of therapy, you will identify patterns and behaviors that have a negative impact on your life and come up with ways to adjust or cope with those things.
Dialectical behavior therapy: A form of CBT, this was initially used for people with borderline personality disorder. Now, it’s also used in the treatment of anxiety.
Interpersonal therapy: If your relationships are causing issues in your life, you may use this form of therapy to figure them out.
Psychodynamic therapy: The idea here is that past problems inform how you feel now. With that, there is lots of reflection in this form of therapy.
Once you identify the type of therapy you need, it’s important to commit to it. These ideas can help you make the most of your therapeutic experience so that you can live the happy, healthy life that you deserve.
The following are five ways you can optimize your therapy experience:
According to the American Psychological Association, the therapy relationship you have with your provider is at least as important to a positive outcome as using the right method of treatment.
So, when choosing a mental health provider, think about what will make you feel most comfortable and able to open up.
Will you feel most comfortable with someone who is the same gender as you or who has the same ethnic background? Maybe you’ll vibe the best with someone older. Or would you rather work with someone closer to your age?
Whatever you think you’ll feel most comfortable with, make sure you look for that in a provider.
As you get to know your therapy provider, you should also feel free to ask any questions that will help you feel good about who you’re seeing. This includes asking questions about their background and qualifications, their specialization, their overall experience treating people like you, etc.
What is your reasoning for wanting to seek out mental health help? Knowing your way can help you stay focused on your goal.
Need some help figuring out your purpose for being in therapy? As mentioned above, the National Institute of Mental Health says that therapy can help people who are dealing with stress, have trouble focusing, are going through a big life change or are overwhelmed by sadness.
Think about whether those things apply to you.
Does work add unnecessary stress to your life? Maybe your goal in therapy could be to find out how to manage on-the-job anxiety.
Or say you recently went through a breakup — your goal in therapy could be to find a healthy way to move on.
Also, know that your “why?” may change and evolve. After you accomplish one goal, you may set another. Or, as you work on a goal, you may realize that what you need to focus on is slightly different than what you originally thought.
So, have goals, but also be flexible enough to recognize when they need to change.
Take the commitment seriously. This means showing up to your scheduled appointments. But it goes beyond that, too.
You not only need to physically show up, but you need to mentally show up, too. That means being open and honest with your provider and participating fully.
It’s also important to do your homework. If your healthcare provider asks you to do something in between appointments, do it. When you commit fully, you are more likely to get the most out of the entire experience.
Speaking of being mentally present, it is crucial to be open and honest with your therapist. Think of your relationship with your therapist as a partnership. If you hold back, they won’t be able to use their skills fully to help you.
On that note, if something during the therapeutic process isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to speak up. Remember, your therapist wants you to get everything you need out of therapy, so if you’re feeling that something isn’t helpful, they want to know.
In a dream world, you’d have one therapy session and — bam! — all your problems would be solved. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
Therapy is a process and the amount of time people need to be treated varies.
While there is no prescribed amount of time for therapy, there is some research that suggests how long the average person needs to be in therapy.
On average, 15 to 20 sessions are needed for about half the amount of people who seek out therapy.
However, people with certain conditions may need to be in therapy for over a year.
No matter how long you need to be in therapy, it’s important to trust the process. When you do this, you are more likely to see the wonderful benefits therapy sessions can bring.
Whether you have a diagnosed mental illness or are facing a temporary struggle (like various life transitions, family issues, relationship issues or everyday life stress), the therapy process can be hugely beneficial for all people.
It’s important to find a mental health professional you trust. To find the right provider, think about what will make you feel most comfortable in your therapeutic relationship.
Once you find someone you trust, there are things you can do to make the most of your individual therapy sessions.
Some of the things you can do include being honest about how negative feelings affect your daily life, accepting that you will see progress over time and not right away and developing healthy coping skills.