7 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Counseling And Therapy

Therapy and counseling not only gives you a safe space to discuss your feelings, ideals, and history – it also seeks to provide you with the proper tools to manage the stresses of life outside of the room.

If you ask anyone I know about how much I enjoy therapy, you may be met with a sigh. I talk about it a lot - and even better? I am comfortable talking about it. If you have never spoken with a counselor, you are probably unaware of the “tools” aspect. The goal of therapy is not just to talk about your childhood, how the expectations your parents imposed on you since birth have stunted you emotionally, or cry on a stranger’s couch. It is to provide you with mechanisms to cope with the good and the bad, the big and the small. This can come in forms like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), meditation, affirmations, or even the realization that you can simply pause and take a second for yourself when things get tricky.

As for me? I have been going to therapy on and off since college. Around 2009, I began seeing a university counselor after my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. This continued throughout college since the individual and group counseling sessions were provided free for students.

When I moved to Houston, I went through several therapists. It was a bit like Goldilocks and her trio of bears. One was too hippie; one was too harsh; and one was just right. Her name was Dr. Romeo, and she was. the. bomb. For 2 years, I would meet with her twice a month. We would talk about everything from the mundane like work and relationships to the more serious like self esteem and fears.

Unfortunately, all of that ended when I decided to move back to South Carolina. Since she did not offer teletherapy sessions (or counseling sessions via Skype or phone) at the time, I have been on the hunt for a new therapist. Trying to find a new counselor that I click with has made me reevaluate the way I approach this practice – and with that, I want to point out a few things that help to make finding one and sticking with him/her so much easier.

Stock Image of timid woman in therapy session and man with clipboard

1. Consider finding a provider that is covered by your insurance - or even not, if you are financially able.

To say therapy is cheap is a complex statement. I have seen counselors who work on a sliding scale, who require you to pay $120 out of pocket each session, and even who are covered by my insurance. It is important to realize that all of these are options and what you choose is based on availability, your finances, and insurance coverage. It is advised to check with the therapist about payment options prior to your session so you are not left on the hook.

2. Need help finding a therapist? Look to resources like Yelp, local Facebook groups, and Psychology Today.

Like I said, finding a therapist you click with can be tough. I actually met Dr. Romeo based on a recommendation from my hairdresser. Another resource I have utilized is Psychology Today – a website that allows you to search therapists in your area, the types of payment they accept, and even better? Any issues in which they specialize. The latter is especially important if you are seeking help for issues like depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), trauma, etc. This resource in particular allows you to get a sense of the person and their approach prior to ever stepping foot in their office.

3. Be open with your therapist about what is and what is not working.

Whether we are in a relationship or have a situation with a work colleague that necessitates us to openly confront an issue, telling someone else how they may be falling short of your expectations is tough. When you are in therapy and this happens, it is a little easier because you are already showing vulnerability – but it can still be difficult.

This is something I have had to do recently with my new therapist. We had a check-in where I told her the things I enjoyed about past therapists and ways I needed her to push me in order for this to be a fruitful partnership. Once that was made clear, we actually had one of the most impactful and breakthrough sessions to date!

5. Likewise, ask your therapist for feedback on how you are doing - and how you can improve - during your sessions.

Okay, we are not getting graded here. However, there is benefit in knowing if the responses you are giving in a session are helping or hurting the flow. Simply ask if there are ways you respond to questions that they think you could improve upon. For instance, are you getting lost in your thoughts and leaving them to wonder if you’re trying to stop the conversation cold? Do you change the subject abruptly without giving any indication if this is because you’re uncomfortable with the current topic or simply prefer the new one?

Approaches like this not only help you both get more out of the session – They also help you to build a stronger relationship with your therapist.

6. Consider a therapist who uses psychological, spiritual, etc. tools with which it vibes.

This point is pretty crunchy, but let’s get to it. Remember how I talked about the tools you get from counseling? There are many different ways to approach this, and some of the most impactful will align with your lifestyle and beliefs on a more personal level. This could be prayer for the spiritual. It could be CBT for the scientific. It could even be the use of Archetypes cards for helping to disrupt thoughts. (Don’t laugh. I’m currently working through this!) Partnering with a therapist who employs techniques in which you are most interested will help to keep you more diligent about the work and how well you open up.

7. Ask for homework.

So you spend 50 minutes talking about your feelings on your own dime, and I want you to ask for more work? Crazy, I know.

While meeting with a counselor regularly can help you manage stress and get to the root of any problems you’re currently experiencing, the real work is done off the couch. You can say that you will make the effort to change or try things once you are out of the office, but life gets in the way. Asking your therapist for “homework” helps hold you accountable, because you know they will bring it up next session. By making promises to someone else and not just your ideal future self, you will be more likely to accomplish what you set out to do.

8. Take notes following your session.

Did something important come up during your session, something hit a nerve, something have you tearing up or even raging out? Take. Notes. After.

While you can do this in a journal or even the Notes app on your phone, my favorite method is talking into the voice recording app on my phone. It allows me to talk my way through the session, keep track of important details for the next session, and reverberate any homework that has been assigned…all while driving or walking home.

These are just a few examples of ways you can get the most out of therapy and counseling, leading you to hopefully gain more control over stress. Are there others you would recommend that are not listed here? Any techniques you find more effective than others? Let’s hear it!