How to have great therapy

When someone decides to speak to a therapist, they are commenting on their existing conversations, and that is, they are not making the difference they are after. If they were, they wouldn’t be talking to the therapist. The reason therapists exist is to give us what our existing support network can’t or won’t. A client leaving a therapy session must be able to say, ‘That was exactly what I needed. No one I know could or would have talked to me that way.’

A therapist’s job is to give someone a Conversation With Impact because only these result in the personal breakthroughs we need to achieve good mental health and wellbeing. In this post, I look at how you can make sure your therapist does this for you.

Quality of conversation

It is a truism that persistent mental health and emotional problems reflect the quality of our existing conversations. In talking to someone we know about an issue, our first question has to be, ‘Does talking to them help?’ And by help, I mean does talking to them result in concrete, positive change? If it doesn’t, we know we need someone new to talk to. Appreciating this means we can give appropriate attention to finding someone who can provide us with the conversation we need, like a therapist.

It is essential to see this decision positively as it can be easy to feel guilty, deceitful or even ashamed when going outside of your existing network. Please don’t. Remember, if you have difficulties and challenges and the people you know can’t or won’t help, you have every right to seek out someone who can and will.

A starting point

If you choose to work with a therapist, start by identifying the qualities and characteristics you need your conversations with them to include. One of the easiest ways to discover what these are is to reflect on your current conversations. Remember, your difficulties are a product of these conversations, which means they will be full of helpful clues for you and your therapist.

Finding these clues will require you to be an active participant in your therapy. An effective therapist will have an idea your existing conversations are a factor but don’t assume this or leave it undiscussed. Be explicit with them that your parents, family, partner, friends and colleagues are the reason you are seeing them. Your parents may be lovely people, and your partner may be very supportive, but what your therapist needs to know is that loveliness and supportiveness are not enough.

Choosing a therapist

Below are a series of statements that address critical aspects of the therapeutic relationship and process. Have the statements to hand when speaking to a potential new therapist. Use them to help you feel confident they are someone with whom you can work. And with the evidence indicating that effective therapeutic relationships are formed – IN THE FIRST SESSION! – it is vital that you feel able to respond positively to all or most of the statements below STRAIGHTAWAY!

  • I trust the therapist
  • I feel respected by them
  • They do not judge me and accept me for who I am
  • The conversation follows my agenda, not theirs.
  • They give me the time that I need
  • They respect my need for confidentiality
  • I can say what I really want to them
  • They understand me and what I need from them
  • They have the ideas, skills and knowledge I need
  • I am not too close to them
  • They believe in me and my potential for change
  • I feel challenged by them in a good way
  • I feel they genuinely listen to me
  • They are genuinely interested in me
  • My conversations with them make a difference
  • They help me set clear goals and strategies
  • They help me find solutions
  • They have the X-Factor

Put yourself first

Talk to more than one therapist. Interrogate. Ask questions. Make demands. Get them to say how they can help you. There is no right or wrong way to choose a therapist, but those who willingly give as much free time as someone needs to feel confident they are suitable for them should be considered above those who expect payment before any conversation occurs.

Once therapy has begun, please be guided by this principle: only see a therapist who can give you what you need from the first session. If they don’t, you can, of course, let them know and provide them with a chance to adapt their approach, but you have to put yourself first: don’t persist with a therapist who leaves your problems intact. It will be odd indeed if the reason you stopped talking to your existing support network is the reason you continue talking to a therapist who isn’t helping you. The reality is that too many people do stick with ineffective therapists and assume the problem is down to them.

How do you know if a therapist is right for you? Well, there are lots of possible answers to this question, but in simple terms, a therapist will be right for you if talking to them makes an immediate difference and continues to do so.

Educating your therapist

Educating your therapist about what you need from them can avoid one of my clients’ fate. When conducting an initial consultation, I asked them if they had seen someone like me before. Yes, they replied. How did it go, I wondered? Not good. Although they initially felt comfortable with the therapist, it quickly became apparent that their approach was too limited. However, rather than address this, they let the therapy continue until after a year, she decided on one occasion not to go back.

Therapy can be life-changing and even life-saving, but only if you actively shape the therapeutic conversation and know how to do so as a client. Expect to educate your therapist about what you need from them throughout your therapy. Ineffective therapy is always expensive therapy.

Great therapy is getting to the point

A good therapist will have an idea of where to look for the source of your troubles, but like any visitor to a new area, they will need a local guide to show them around – you. You can significantly improve your therapy’s effectiveness by going into it with a good understanding of the location of your difficulties and challenges. Getting straight to the point in therapy can give you a sense of confidence and enable your therapist to make an immediate impact. While therapy can take time, sometimes many months or longer, this does not mean you have to wait for any improvements!

Below are the main areas where our issues and challenges usually reside. Looking at the list, choose between 0 and 10, where 10 indicates severe difficulty and 0 an area in great shape. As a general rule, seven or more is a priority; five or six is important; four or below can be left and polished later as it is already in good shape.

  • Identity, role and status (personal and professional)
  • Thoughts, beliefs, behaviours and emotions
  • Mental health and emotional wellbeing
  • Self-esteem and self-worth
  • Past, present and future
  • Relationships – partners, friends, family, colleagues and bosses
  • Work, career and education
  • Lifestyle
  • Social and cultural life
  • Environment

There is no point focusing on low or non-priority aspects of your life. Misdiagnosis never helps.

A positive experience

Therapy should be a positive experience. From the start, you should feel inspired by what your therapist says and does. Each session should leave you feeling hopeful and excited to return. And when your therapist gets it wrong, which they will from time to time, they should welcome your feedback and adjust their practice accordingly. How you think, behave, feel and form your relationships should be changed by and in therapy, as should the relationship with your past, present and future. At the end of therapy, who you are, what you do, and the life you lead should reflect what you came into therapy to achieve.

Getting support to have great therapy

If you would like further help and advice in finding the right therapist, please get in touch. We would love to work with you, of course, but the most important outcome for us is that you find the right therapist for you. Read our other blog on what to look out for when finding a therapist.