I just read an interesting story on-line from the New York Times discussing on-line therapy and in particular, on-line marriage therapy. At the end of the article, there were several comments by readers, many of whom were saying that they had tried “marriage counseling” and it wasn't a helpful experience.
There are times when therapy isn't a helpful experience. Keep reading to learn when, why, and how this happens, and how to make sure your therapy experience is helpful.
1. Be Comfortable and Connected with the Therapist.
Did you know that over and over, studies show that it's not so much about the technique used by the therapist, but the connection between the therapist and the clients. Just because someone has seen your neighbor and did wonderful work with them does not mean they are the best fit for you. It's important to feel like the person you are working with is mindful of your experiences and beliefs, and you feel as though they have a good grasp on the presenting concerns.
It is also important for you to feel as though you can be yourself around them. Often, clients say that some therapists are distant and professional, quiet, constantly writing, and some even feel judged by them. If you feel like this uncomfortable with your therapist, the chances are that you aren't being yourself around them and that you aren't sharing as much as you should be sharing. That information can help the therapist to be more effective. So make sure that you have the connection with your therapist. Some offer consultations to see if there is a fit before you begin working together.
2. Be Active with your Assignments.
The second major factor that can hinder changes from happening is only working on the problems during the sessions with the therapist. It's understandable to be that way- when you've tried to discuss things on your own, it hasn't worked the way you had hoped. However, the goal is for the clients to not need their therapist because they've found solutions to function better. To help speed up the process, doing some thinking and changing outside of the session will help. While not all therapists give “homework,” they may ask you to jot something down or to think about a specific instance. Coming to sessions prepared will also help you feel and see the difference sooner.
It's also important to complete things. If you don't feel comfortable with the therapist, let them know and ask for referrals. If you stop suddenly because you can feel a difference, things are going better, or you aren't connecting, it can backfire. Just like not seeing a physical therapist after surgery, the problem that was an issue before can then turn into a bigger problem. Most therapists have a treatment plan that will end your work together in a way that feels comfortable, and not like you've just been cut loose on your own.
3. Be Committed to the Process.
You're probably thinking, “I'm already committed to my spouse/child/family/etc. If not, I wouldn't be here.” The other part of you may be thinking if something doesn't change, then you will need to “be committed” to a hospital. There's an old fable (some may call it a joke) about a pig and chicken who want to go into a restaurant business together. The chicken thinks they should serve bacon and eggs…and understandably, the pig has reservations. While the chicken is contributing, the pig is totally committed to that venture. What is your motivation for therapy? Do you relate to the pig or the chicken?
4. Be Patient with the Process.
While patience may be a virtue, it is definitely in short supply in a time when we can download information in seconds and have food ready in minutes. The therapist is “joining” your situation and it will take some time to not only bring them up to speed, but for each party to feel like they've had a chance to get out their side of the story. To you, this is old news and it can feel like a waste of time. However, if everyone involved doesn't feel like they've had a fair chance to share and they don't feel like the therapist understands them, it can hinder the process. Most of the time this part of the process can take place within 3-4 sessions, depending on the nature of the problem and how cooperative family members are in the process. Most therapeutic work can be completed within 8-12 sessions, with some taking 20 sessions. If you come weekly, you're looking at 2-6 months to see the changes set in. Then you can move to a “check-up” like your yearly physical with your doctor, just to help keep things on track before they veer off course again.
5. Be Ready to Ask Questions.
If you are not comfortable or don't understand what's happening in your therapy session, ask! Most therapists are happy to answer your questions and see your willingness to inquire why you're doing something as being an active participant. Even during the first call when you're arranging a time for the first session, come prepared with a list of questions. This will help you to have more trust and comfort with them, and will help make the experience better when you feel like you are a part of the experience.