How to get the most out of therapy

There is no 'right way' in therapy, it's work, sometimes hard work, but there are ways you can train yourself to get the most out of your sessions and therapy more generally.

By Dr Mohamed Zaki 4th February 2020

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Dr Mohamed Zaki

Head of Research


“Is this going to work?” 

“Am I doing this right?” 

“What will I get out of this?”

These are all questions that people frequently ask themselves about therapy. While they may take many different guises, these questions are essentially about the efficacy of therapy. There’s ample evidence that therapy can be effective in dealing with and addressing a whole range of issues, including depression, anxiety, bereavement, OCD and so many more, but there is also evidence that it can help some people more or better than others. 

With that in mind, there are some techniques you can use or ideas you should remember to maximise your therapy experience. 

You absolutely have to want it to work and you have to believe that you can make it work.

Stay motivated and committed - Unlike the rest of the techniques, tools and tips in this article, this first one is absolutely essential for the success of therapy. You absolutely have to want it to work and you have to believe that you can make it work. That’s not to say that this belief will be, and will remain, unwavering but you’ll only effect change in your life through therapy if you embrace your agency in this process. If you stumble at times, just remember to trust the process and trust your ability to navigate it. You can use your time in sessions to tend to and nurture this sense of ownership, agency and motivation. Also, go to your sessions even when you don’t feel like it, you’ll find that every single session is important in one way or another. 

Prepare for your sessions - It’s good to have some idea of what you want to cover during each session. This could be related to something that’s happened in the period between sessions, the way you’ve felt at times during that period or any specific thoughts, ideas or insights you might've had during that time. It’s not essential that you do this every single week, but you’ll find that 50 minutes can fly by and this rough guide can help you hit all the areas you want to cover every week. 

You’ll get more out of therapy the more honest and unfiltered you are with your therapist.

Don’t hold back - Think of your therapy session as the one place where you can let all of your thoughts and emotions, no matter how disorganised and messy, run amok without fear of judgement. You’ll get more out of therapy the more honest and unfiltered you are with your therapist. This won’t always be easy but push yourself to verbalize and communicate whatever you’re thinking and feeling; your therapist is trained to productively guide those raw expressions. Because of a culture of shame, homophobia and transphobia, LGBTQ+ persons might feel more pressure to withhold or censor aspects of their lives but don’t shy away from discussing each and every aspect of your sexuality with your therapist. Therapy is a safe place for you to open up about those aspects of your life that make you uncomfortable or that you at times feel like you must hide and squirrel away. 

Challenge your discomfort - Following on from the previous point; don’t be afraid to sit with your discomfort and use it productively. Your therapist will play a crucial role in helping you reach a point where you can do that but remember not to fear or avoid discomfort. Therapy can be many things; eye-opening, enlightening, relieving, but it can also be tough and uncomfortable. 

Take it home with you – Use what you learn and discover during your sessions outside therapy. This includes reflecting on your discussions when you get home, engaging with ideas raised during the sessions on your own or changing your behaviour based on insights gleaned through your interactions with your therapist. 

Talk about your therapy with your therapist – Discuss how you feel about your client-therapist relationship, the progress you’re making, any doubts you may have. Crucially, let your therapist know what’s working for you and what isn’t. 

Don’t be afraid to make a change if necessary – If you feel you’re not making any/enough progress or feel that a specific therapist is not working for you, don’t be afraid to discuss alternative options. Therapists want what’s best for their clients, even if that means pointing them in the direction of someone better able or better placed to help them. 

Finally, remember that there is no ‘right way’ in therapy and to give yourself a break when you need it. Therapy is work, sometimes hard work, so train yourself to recognize if a session or any aspect of the process is too intense for you and find ways to ease that pressure and intensity. 

Therapy is work, sometimes hard work.