The process of therapy is just that - a process. In a time of incredibly jam-packed schedules, so many of us want our healing (and really, most things in life) to go quickly or have a magic pill. The thing is, often times the problems and/or challenges that motivate us to enter treatment in the first place have taken years and sometimes a lifetime to develop. Thus, healing from life’s challenges and shifting directions is a process that takes time. Given this, I thought I would share ways to make the most of your time in therapy. Do you have to do these things? Absolutely not. However, the more you take your therapeutic work outside of the therapy office and do work between sessions, the more quickly you will likely heal (versus if you don’t do those things). These aren’t really short cuts to therapy; change takes time. But they can help reduce in-office work or the length of time in therapy.
Actively participating in Therapy Sessions
I realize this may sound obvious, but it is important to point out. When you prioritize attending scheduled sessions well-rested and alert (as much as you can be given your circumstances), so much more work and growth can transpire. Additionally, coming in with questions, concerns, or things we need to address really helps your therapist support you and give you the help you need. If you are doing trauma work, it is also important to practice the recommended skills between sessions to help you prepare. This may mean practicing Calm Place daily or the self-awareness check-in or perhaps other distress tolerance and emotion regulation skills.
Doing Your Therapy Homework
Many times, clinicians will recommend work between sessions. This may be skills to practice or things to notice between sessions. It could be watching a video. You may be invited to read an article or book. These things do not necessarily replace therapy. But outside information (e.g., books, articles, videos) can both supplement and complement the work you are doing in therapy, often reinforcing concepts you are working on. Practicing skills between sessions will improve your ability to use the skills when you need them the most, making therapy more effective.
Healthy Lifestyle Skills
I have found this can be a tough subject for some and at times tough to implement. Yet what I see in practice is that when people take care of themselves as best as they can, they feel better. What does this mean? Move your body regularly; if the word “exercise” doesn’t work for you, can you find ways to move? Perhaps dancing in the kitchen or walking around the block are ways you can move. Whatever you choose, in general mobile bodies feel better and work better, settling not just the body but also the mind and emotions (which are all connected!). Other healthy lifestyle skills that help you get a bigger bang for your therapy buck include getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night and eating a healthy and balanced diet.
Mindfulness, Meditating, Yoga, and Other Mind-Body Options
Mind-body practices such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and others can be incredibly effective in increasing both self-awareness and improving concentration. With increased self-awareness, it becomes easier to notice patterns that you would like to shift, giving you present-moment awareness of the situation so you can apply skills or a shift of mindset in the moment. A note of caution, these practices may not be right for everyone for a number of reasons. If you have a complex trauma history, sometimes engaging in these practices can be helpful but sometimes they can be triggering. Thus, it is important to evaluate this with a mental health professional.
Healing and change take time and focused effort. Your therapist can help you on that path. While not all of the above ideas may be accessible to you at any given time, the more you can collaborate the more you will get out of therapy. Best wishes in your healing!