Therapy: Going All In

State of Mind
Robin Gutman, LPC

I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, really. It was late on a Saturday night, and the dairy eatery was mostly empty. At a nearby table sat a group of five women, engaged in a lively conversation about therapy. From the looks of it, one of the women seemed to have a sense of authority on the subject, and the questions were directed towards her. Suddenly, I heard one woman state boldly, “If I needed a therapist, I would remortgage my house if needed, to pay for the best therapist.”

The (somewhat dramatic) commitment to making therapy a viable option at any cost seems quite admirable. While I appreciate the intention behind the statement, it made me realize that people may not realize how much power they hold within themselves along the therapeutic journey.

When you choose to ‘go to therapy’, it involves so much more than finding a therapist and showing up to your sessions!

Imagine booking your dream vacation. Perhaps you are adventurous and you’ve always wanted to explore the African wilds, or maybe you’ve booked an Alaskan cruise. Maybe you prefer lounging on the beach in Turks & Caicos or San Juan. (The choice is yours, this is just an example after all.)

You can book the excursion and show up for the flight, and yet, if all you did was ‘show up’, the trip would still fall short. To get the most out of any vacation, it would be best to first contemplate the goal of travel. Are you looking for adventure or relaxation? After choosing an appropriate destination, you would need to contemplate suitable attire. You will need weather appropriate clothing, and you may need to prepare special gear, such as hiking boots if you are traveling to Alaska. You might want to check the climate, or what the weather will be at your destination so that you are prepared accordingly. You’ll need some kind of luggage, and time to pack. Food and accommodations need to be planned for as well.

You can buy a first class ticket to anywhere in the world, but only you can get yourself onto that plane. Without getting to the airport in time for the flight, the plane will take off without you. Buying a seat is not enough of a motion to actually get you to where you want to go. Getting away without having to pack any bags sounds like bliss (I really dislike packing!), but realistically it takes effort to compile the essentials.

I am beginning to get travel agent vibes, so let’s reroute this conversation from travel to your state of mind. I do think a great therapist is a crucial component of therapy, and having the feeling that your clinician is someone you can trust is a good place to start. In addition, here are what I would consider to be elements of compiling the essentials for your successful therapeutic journey:

Honesty- First and foremost, are you prepared to be honest with your therapist regarding your history, your experiences, and your feelings? It can feel uncomfortable to bare parts of your history that may feel completely irrelevant.

“Why does my therapist need to know about my parent’s marriage?” Susan wondered. “I am here to talk about my own relationships!”

Therapists can often connect certain life experiences to current struggles, which helps in determining most appropriate treatment strategies. Holding back information can get in the way of effective treatment. If you feel reluctant to share certain information, perhaps be open about your hesitation with your therapist and see if they can help you become more comfortable. You can say something like: ‘There’s something I think might be helpful for you to know but it is hard for me to talk about it.’

Goals-Having some idea of what you hope to gain from the therapeutic experience will give you a sense of working towards something. More importantly, it will allow you to judge whether your therapy experience met your expectations.

Objectives-Objectives are the small, achievable steps set up to help you work most effectively towards your stated goal. For example, if a client’s goal was to become more comfortable in social situations, the objectives for the client could be attending two social events in the next month, engaging in conversation for ten minutes at each event, and introducing themselves to one person they don’t know at a social event.

As you engage in therapy, your goals and objectives may shift accordingly. New thoughts and emotions may bubble to the surface that point to deeper challenges than were originally presented, which is why honesty is so important. Sometimes it isn’t a matter of holding back information; avoidance, trauma,and the subconscious can play roles as well.

On a more positive note, progressing in therapy might call for a reevaluation of goals and objectives, too!

Commitment- Therapy goes beyond the actual time spent in session (which should be attended as recommended by your therapist, for best results). To maximize your experience, you might want to ask for ‘homework’ or other resources to carry through between sessions. Commitment to therapy also means stretching yourself out of your comfort zone, and being open to considering other perspectives.

You don’t necessarily need to remortgage your home to have a successful therapy experience. Your journey goes beyond finding the best therapist; it requires that you bring your best self along for the ride.

This article was originally published in the Five Towns Jewish Times.