The "Good" Therapist and the "Good" Client
Maximizing the Benefits of Psychotherapy
Therapy can be expensive, time consuming, uncomfortable, and frustrating. When it is effective, however, it can also be life changing, empowering, uplifting, and freeing. The key in making the former worth the later, is effectiveness. So what makes for effective therapy? Surprisingly, psychological testing reveals that many elements of the psychotherapeutic process which one might expect to be impactful, the theoretical framework of the therapist, length of treatment, specific modalities used, etc., prove more or less ineffectual in determining a successful outcome. There are, however, two factors which consistently play a significant role in dictating how beneficial a therapeutic experience will be. They are the therapist/client relationship and client participation. Let’s explore how you can use both of these indicators to maximize the benefits of your counseling experience.
Because the therapist/client relationship is such an overwhelming predictor of therapeutic effectiveness, it is essential that you find a therapist who fits for you.
Do your research: Most therapists now have websites which allow you to get a feel for their approach. This is also a great source of information for weeding out factors which may be deal-breakers later on. For example, if you need to use a particular type of insurance, are looking for a therapist who accepts sliding scale payments, want to try a particular treatment such as hypnotherapy, or need to see a therapist who is close to your home or place of work. These considerations will help you to filter your search substantially.
Ask about a free consultation: Once you have narrowed down a list of perhaps three or four therapists you are interested in meeting, call to find out whether they offer a free consultation visit. Many therapists offer a free consultation as a courtesy to clients. This offers both client and therapist an opportunity to discern whether they feel this could be a productive working relationship. The free consultation is an excellent way to interview potential therapists without having to pay for multiple sessions.
Meet with a few different therapists: Describe the issue(s) you would like to work on in therapy. If the therapist does not give much feedback on their own, ask them how they might work with these issues. This should give you a relatively good sense of the approach this therapist uses with clients. As you meet with each practitioner, notice how you feel. Is this someone with whom you would feel comfortable sharing the most vulnerable and intimate aspects of yourself? Do you feel emotionally safe? Do you feel a general sense of confidence and trust in this person? It can be difficult to determine someone’s competency in one short hour, so trust your gut. You are not so much attempting to assess their level of expertise as you are discovering whether they are a good match with you.
Work out the details: Once you find a practitioner you feel comfortable with and excited about, make sure you iron out the details. The fee for each session must legally be determined by the end of the first session. Be sure you are clear about the cost of sessions, what types of payment are accepted, cancellation policies, interactions with insurance providers, how often you will meet, and whether or not the therapist is available for phone or additional sessions when clients require extra support.
"Optimizing each session…"
Now that you have found your ideal therapist, let’s look at how you can maximize the benefit of each session.
Create specific goals: Think about what your goals are in beginning therapy. How will you know when you have been successful in your treatment? What will success look and feel like? Be specific. Whenever possible, set quantifiable goals, i.e., “I want to exercise for at least 30 minutes, three times each week” rather than “I want to be in better shape”. These goals should be about changing your feelings and behavior. You will be the only one in the room and you are the only one you can make choices for so goals having to do with changing others will be counterproductive to your process and ultimately disempowering.
Have a pre-game strategy: Spend 30 minutes before each session considering what you want to spend the hour working on. Think about your week and what is the most salient for you at this moment. Write down any specific questions you want to remember to ask or topics you want to be sure to bring up.
Use your tools: Your therapist is a resource. They can offer you tools but only you can put those tools to use. Utilize the feedback you are receiving in therapy throughout the week. Become more observant of your own behavior. Pay attention to how you are feeling and reacting to the world around you. Increasing self-awareness is a primary component of the therapeutic process. Make a conscious effort to be more conscious, not just for one hour each week, but throughout the entire week.
Use the therapeutic mirror: The therapist/client relationship is a more or less one-way street. Your therapist will know a great deal about your personal life while you will know very little about theirs. There is a reason for this. It allows the therapist and the therapeutic environment to become a mirror for the client. Because the therapist is not bringing their needs, judgments, assumptions, etc. into the room (at least in theory they are not, therapists are still human beings, after all) this creates a space completely devoted to the clients needs, judgments, assumptions, etc. Therefor, the client’s reactions to the therapist and the therapeutic process are a valuable source of self-awareness. How you respond to your therapist can show you who you are, where you are resistant, where you are open, how you tend to react to hearing difficult feedback. This one-sided dynamic offers you the unique opportunity to see yourself in a vacuum. Don’t waste that opportunity!
The more you bring to the therapy process, the more you will get out of it. Working with a therapist you trust and feel comfortable with will allow you to be open in what you share and in your willingness to accept the feedback you are given. Being an active participant in your own therapy offers a greater sense of motivation and self-efficacy. The proactive and determined client can often address in months what might take the passive and unmotivated client years to address in counseling. If your aim is to move past your challenges and move on with enjoying your life, finding a good therapist and becoming a good client is the cheapest, quickest way to get there.