Table of Contents
Affiliate link notice: As an affiliate of BetterHelp and other third-party vendors, We may receive compensation if you make a purchase using the links provided on this page. For more information, visit our disclosure page.
Last Updated on December 7, 2021 by Randy Withers, LCMHC
Here’s an odd question. Are you good at “doing” therapy?
Perhaps you’ve been to a dozen therapists before and never gotten much out of it. Perhaps you’re brand new and wondering where to begin.
Either way, if you want to learn how to get results in therapy, this post is for you.
Therapy is one of the most important things you can do for your overall mental health. But it’s not like any of us were ever trained how to “do” therapy correctly.
That’s where I come in.
As a licensed therapist, I’ve seen clients who absolutely crushed therapy and those who petered out after a few sessions.
The good news for you is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I know what works and what does not. All you have to do is read my suggestions and use the ones that make the most sense.
What You’ll Learn From This Post
My goal today is to teach you how to get results in therapy so that you can increase your quality of life and decrease the suffering that led you to seek help in the first place. It won’t be easy. Therapy is hard work. But with these tips, you’ll be much more likely to benefit from it.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
What Is Psychotherapy?
The mental health field has technical names for everything. It’s easy to get confused.
So let’s talk about and define the word “psychotherapy.”
Psychotherapy — also known as therapy or talk-therapy — is a general term that describes the treatment of psychological problems by a licensed mental health professional. It is accomplished through communication, relationship building, and collaboration between the therapist and the client.
Psychotherapy is an effective treatment for a host of issues, including:
- Mental illness (e.g., depression and anxiety)
- Addictions and substance abuse
- Relationship problems
- Anger Management
- Eating Disorders
- Stress Management
- Grief and Loss
- Parenting and Family Issues
Psychotherapists see individuals, couples, and groups. They use evidence-based theory to help clients identify problems, manage symptoms, and facilitate change.
If you are seeing a psychotherapist, your session will probably last about 50 minutes. Most people see their therapist once a week or twice a month. Whether it is more or less than that is something you’ll discuss with your therapist.
Shop now at Amazon.com
Does Seeing A Therapist Actually Help?
Do you have doubts about the benefits of therapy? Are you not sure if it’s right for you?
Therapy is incredibly helpful for the vast majority of us. The research on this is pretty clear.
So, do therapists have all the answers? Not exactly.
A therapist helps you better understand your problem. They teach you effective ways to manage it and empower you to decide for yourself the best course of action.
The goal of every therapist is to eventually work themselves out of a job. In other words, they want to get you to a place where you no longer need them.
Most people are perfectly capable of managing their own problems. It’s just that in the beginning, they don’t know what the problem is or what to do about it.
That’s where therapy comes in. Therapists are partners, teachers, mentors, and guides. Together, you can accomplish anything you want.
How To Get Results In Therapy
Unfortunately, a therapist can only take you so far. You see, it’s far easier to be a therapist than a client. After all, you’re the one with the problem. You’re the one who needs to change.
And change does not come without hard work.
I’m going to be real here with you. I apologize if this seems harsh, but you need to hear this:
Therapists don’t change people. That’s not what therapists do.
The only person who has the ability to change you is you. Your therapist is just there to help the process along.
You are here to learn how to get results in therapy, so let’s talk about how you do that. What follows is a list of 9 things you can start doing immediately.
1. Come Prepared
Therapy is one of the bravest things you can do. But just like anything else that’s important, it’s best to show up prepared.
Get a notebook and prepare a list of topics you’d like to discuss. Keep it with you throughout the week. Here’s some suggestions if you need a few prompts:
- What brought you to therapy?
- What do you want to accomplish today?
- What do you think is the problem?
- What are some things you need help with (e.g., coping skills)?
While you’re at it, jot down anything that seems like it would make sense to discuss with your therapist. Changes in your mood or symptoms, medication tweaks, relationship conflicts, the quality of your sleep – these are all useful bits of data that can lead to rich and rewarding discussions.
2. Channel your Inner Sherlock Holmes
Everything is related to everything. Life is a complicated system with lots of moving parts. And when something breaks down, sometimes it’s hard to find the real source of the problem.
In therapy, you need to investigate every aspect of your life. Everything. Childhood experiences. Trauma. Relationships. Emotions. Thoughts. Beliefs. Values. Leave no stone unturned.
Often, the thing we think is the problem is not actually the problem. And often, the thing we think isn’t the problem actually is.
Good therapy involves a little creative detective work. Take the time to thoroughly examine your life. If you do, you’ll be in a much better position to change it.
3. Set Clearly-Defined Goals
Effective therapy begins with setting goals with your therapist. Otherwise, it’s hard to track your progress. It also gets easier to lose sight of what you came to therapy for in the first place.
I recommend developing “SMART” goals, which are goals that have 5 specific criteria. For a goal to be “SMART,” it must be:
Say, for example, that you suffer from depression and your goal is “to be happy.” What exactly do you mean? How long do you expect it to take? Is that goal even realistic, given the nature of depression?
With the help of your therapist, you can take a vague and ill-defined goal and make it SMART. It would look something like this:
SMART Goal: “I want to reduce feelings of sadness and hopelessness from 7 days a week to two days a week over the next 90 days by participating in cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) and using two new coping skills to manage my symptoms.”
I recommend developing no more than 2-3 goals so that you don’t lose focus.
SMART goals are a bit more involved, but one thing’s for sure – at the end of 90 days, you’ll know for sure whether or not you have achieved your goal.
4. Keep The Focus On yourself
Often, people go to therapy to fix the people in their lives who should be in therapy but won’t go. Whether it’s family, friends, co-workers, or spouses, our relationships have a profound impact on our mental health.
It’s only natural to want to fix other people. But it’s a huge mistake to think you can.
The best possible thing you can do in therapy is to focus on the person you can control. And that person, of course, is you.
The truth is, we have no control over anyone else but ourselves.
In fact, our desire to exert control over those with whom we have none is the very root of depression and anxiety for so many.
The solution? Look at what you can control. In other words, keep the focus on you. It’s a far better use of your time.
5. Do Your Homework
Therapy is a process that includes far more than your 50-minute sessions. It involves actual work, both in and out of your therapist’s office.
Often, a therapist will give you homework assignments to complete in between sessions. It’s important that you do them. Our minds naturally resist all forms of change and it’ll take some extra work on your part to overcome that barrier.
Here are some common examples of homework assignments:
- Progressive muscle relaxation, breathing, and grounding exercises
- Journal prompts and symptom tracking
- Worksheets and reading assignments
Who knew therapy would be like high school, right?
The truth is that homework is central to many popular therapies (e.g., CBT or DBT). If you want to know how to get results in therapy, it’s by practicing what you have learned in therapy and then applying it to real-world situations.
6. Embrace the “HOW” of Therapy
In the 12-Step community, there’s an acronym called HOW that stands for Honesty, Open-Mindedness and Willingness. Those are three traits that every successful person in recovery shares.
They are also crucial for success in individual therapy, too. Here’s why:
- Honesty means being truthful with your therapist, but it also means that you take steps to avoid self-deception. Many of us are blind to our own faults. It is only through honesty that we can identify the things about ourselves that we need to change.
- Open-mindedness means being receptive to new ideas. Your therapist will teach you a number of ways to change your thinking, manage symptoms, and approach conflict. It might make you feel uncomfortable at first. That’s a good thing. All change requires a certain degree of discomfort.
- Willingness means being ready to try new things. For example, the homework assignments I previously mentioned. Your previous ways of handling problems were not getting you results. In therapy, you’ll learn new skills, but knowledge is not enough. You have to use what you have learned.
If you’re like most people, you’ll encounter something we call “resistance.” This is the state of being unwilling to learn and try new things.
I recommend you work with your therapist to push past it. It’s totally normal, but it’s still a barrier you’ll need to overcome.
7. Don’t Miss Any of Your Appointments, Ever
To get the most results out of therapy, you have to make a commitment to it. Treat it like a non-negotiable part of your weekly routine. Short of being sick, you should never ever miss an appointment.
In the previous tip, I mentioned resistance. It has many forms. You might not feel like going to therapy. You might not want to make the drive. That co-pay might eat into your budget. There’s always an excuse.
But no matter what, you need to commit to your appointments. Therapy is not just a 50-minute session. It’s a promise you have made to yourself. And it’s never wise to break a promise.
If you do struggle with therapy, talk to your therapist. It’s a great topic to explore.
8. Spend Time At The End of Each Session Talking About The Session Itself
This tip is beneficial for both you and your therapist. Give yourself about 5 minutes at the end of each session to review what you have discussed. You can also use that time to give your therapist valuable feedback.
You’ll want to let them know two things:
- What worked for you
- What didn’t work for you
It’s tough for a therapist to know whether a client actually benefited from a session. By letting them know what worked (and what didn’t work), it gives your therapist the opportunity to fine-tune your sessions.
Don’t worry about hurting their feelings. Any good therapist will welcome your feedback.
9. Don’t Waste Time With a Therapist You Don’t Connect With
Effective therapy is 95% relationship, 5% skill. Your therapist could have 9 advanced degrees and 50 years of professional experience. But if you don’t connect with them, none of that matters.
It’s nothing personal. Sometimes two people just aren’t a good fit.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you look forward to therapy sessions?
- Do you feel like your therapist respects you?
- Are you comfortable disclosing personal information to them?
- Do you feel supported, validated, and understood?
If yes, it’s probably a good fit. If you answered no to any one of those questions, it may be time to look elsewhere.
I do recommend that you give any therapist at least 4 sessions before making your decision. One or two sessions just isn’t enough time, short of them behaving in a grossly unprofessional manner.
How Long Does It Take To See Results From Therapy?
So, how long does it take for therapy to start “working”? As you know, people go to therapy for all sorts of reasons, some of them complicated and some of them simple.
However, one of the things that everyone in therapy has in common is that they don’t like the way they feel as a result of their problem. Whether it’s clinical depression, a job loss, or a conflict with a peer, it’s the emotional fallout that motivates all of us to seek relief.
And what we find out quickly is that the way we think about our problems very much affects how we feel about those problems.
Therapy changes something called “cognition”, which is how we think. We all hold onto irrational belief systems and unhealthy thinking patterns. These invariably make us feel worse.
By changing the way we think, we in turn change the way we feel.
While lasting change takes time, many clients begin to feel relief in as little as 1-2 months. Research suggests that most clients report significant benefits within 3-6 months.
When you consider how long some of these problems have been gnawing away at you, a few months seems trivial.
To that end, I strongly recommend that you commit to at least six months of psychotherapy.
That means seeing your therapist two to four times a month and doing all the things that I suggest you do to get the most out of your sessions.
The biggest mistake I see clients make is that they give up on the process too soon. Don’t fall into that trap.
There is no silver bullet, no hack, no fast lane to recovery. Anyone who says differently is trying to sell you something.
Now that you’ve learned how to get results in therapy, it’s time to put things into practice.
If you are already in therapy, discuss these tips with your therapist. See if he or she agrees with them. Perhaps they will add one or two more.
That way, your therapist can hold you accountable. If they see you slipping (e.g., not doing your homework), they can encourage you to keep going.
If you haven’t yet decided to start therapy, now’s as good a time as any to make the commitment.
As far as choosing a therapist, you have two options.
The first is to select a therapist for face-to-face sessions. You’d find someone in your own town and you’d meet with them in their office. Because of social distancing requirements, they probably offer telehealth, too, which is when you meet with them by video or phone.
You can find a therapist in your area by contacting your primary care physician for a referral. You can also contact your insurance company and they can refer you as well.
There are also online therapy directories that can aid in your search. Here are three good places to start:
You should also consider the benefits of virtual counseling, especially in an age of pandemic and social distancing.
Also known as online counseling and online therapy, virtual counseling is when you get therapy from a licensed mental health professional via a combination of text, phone, and video-based sessions.
Online therapy is an excellent and affordable option, especially if you don’t have insurance or you feel like daily access to a therapist is critical.
I have used and recommend three providers, though there are many from which to choose. Here are my three recommendations. They each have special discounts for new members.
All three are excellent providers. I encourage you to visit their websites and make a decision that is best for your needs and situation.
By using those links, you’ll also have access to discounted membership rates.
I hope that my tips have taught you how to get results in therapy. I suppose the only thing left is for you to try them out!
Therapy isn’t easy. But nothing is quite as rewarding as a good therapy session – especially when you do it right.
It’s my hope that you will benefit from these tips and that you will get more out of therapy than you ever thought possible.
Best of luck on your journey. Be sure to circle back and let me know how it worked out for you!
- 11 Intriguing Reasons To Give Talk Therapy A Try – Forbes
- Does Talk Therapy Really Work? — Psychology Today
- Psychotherapy is Effective and Here’s Why — American Psychiatric Association
- The effectiveness of long-term psychoanalytic therapy: a systematic review of empirical studies
- Factors Influencing Successful Psychotherapy Outcomes
- Getting the Most out of TherapyGetting the Most out of Therapy