The following sections look at some ways you can prepare yourself to get the most benefit from the therapy you receive.
1. Thinking about what you want from therapy
It is important for your therapist to know what it is that you want to achieve in therapy – what your goals are. Your goals are a kind of ‘contract’ or agreement between you and your therapist, which specify what you want from him or her. If you go to a furniture store to buy a new sofa, then the visit will have failed if you come home with a new bed, or a carpet, no matter how attractive these objects might be. It is the same in therapy – a good outcome of therapy depends on getting what you came for.
At the start of therapy, most people find it hard to be clear about exactly what it is that they want to achieve. They have maybe only a vague sense of what they hope to get from the therapy. This is perfectly normal – your therapist will encourage you to talk about your goals, and gradually they will become clearer. It is fine to have lots of goals or just one goal. It is fine for your goals to change. What is important is to let your therapist know what it is that you want from therapy.
One of the ways that you can get the most out of therapy is to spend some time on your own thinking about your goals, before the first session, and between sessions. It can be useful to write your goals on a piece of paper, so you don’t forget them. It is useful to keep your therapist updated if your goals change.
2. Thinking about what you think will be most helpful for you
As mentioned earlier, there are big differences between people in respect of what they find helpful in therapy. There is little point in the therapist trying to work with you to tackle a problem in a particular way if you think that the approach being taken is a waste of time! It is very useful, therefore, if you can think about what you believe might work best for you, and share these ideas with your therapist. You can do this by thinking back to times when you have had problems before, and identifying what was helpful or not helpful for you these times. You might also think about what you have heard from friends or family members, or seen on the TV, about how therapy can help. For instance, some people find it useful to be taught how to behave in different ways, others find it useful to ‘blow off steam’ and, for others, what is most useful is to try to solve problems in practical ways. Whatever you think is most helpful to you, your therapists will try to help you with this.
3. Identifying your own personal strengths and resources
The therapy you are being offered is not interested in diagnosing or labelling you. Instead, your therapist will assume that you possess a range of skills, experiences, relationships and abilities that can be used to overcome your present problems. Part of the job of the therapist is to help you to identify your existing strengths and resources, and work out how you can apply them in your current situation. For example:
Jessica was depressed and isolated – she had always been a musical person, and with the support of her therapist joined a choir, where she met other people, and learned to feel better about herself;
Jerry was a student who became very anxious before making a presentation in class – he had always been physically active, and realised that if he went and had a workout in the gym before making a presentation, he was able to cope much better.
It is useful if you can keep a list of your strengths and resources, and share this information with the therapist.
4. Being active between therapy sessions
Between therapy sessions, your therapist reviews what happened in the last sessions, and thinks about what they might do in the next sessions to take things forward. It is valuable if you do the same. Sometimes it can be helpful to work with your therapist to agree ‘homework’, or ‘experiments’, or ‘projects’ that you could complete between sessions. Even if this doesn’t happen, it is still useful for you to think about what has come up in the therapy, whether you are getting what you need, how the therapy can be improved, and so on. It can be hard to remember these thoughts, and one option to consider is keeping a therapy diary, where you write about what the therapy has meant to you.
5. Giving feedback to your therapist
Effectively tailoring the therapy to your specific needs is only possible if you are willing to give honest feedback to your therapist. In our therapy, we use brief questionnaires every week, that you are asked to fill in, that provide information for your therapist about whether the therapy is being effective, and if any aspects of it need to be changed. These questionnaires can also be useful for you in terms of tracking your own progress. Your therapist will also ask you for feedback and comments during the therapy session, or may invite you to take some time to review overall progress after approximately every six sessions. When giving feedback, it is really important that you are as honest and detailed as you can be. It may be painful for your therapist to learn that you think that he asks too many questions (or not enough questions), or whatever. But ultimately, your therapist genuinely wants to help you, and does not want you to pretend that everything is OK when it isn’t. You should regard the feedback that you give to your therapist as a gift – you are giving them an opportunity to learn how to be better at their job.
If you are worried about anything – please ask
Finally, there may be other questions that are not covered, that would make a difference to your ability to make effective use of our therapy. If you have any further questions, please ask your therapist. If for any reason it is an issue that you do not want to mention to your therapist, you can contact the BACP.
Adapted from Cooper, M and McLeod, J (2011). Pluralistic Counselling and Psychotherpy. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.