6 Steps to Make More Progress in Therapy

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By UB staff therapist, Chelsea Alarcon, LPC

You invest time, energy, and money into therapy sessions. Coming in week after week to only remain stagnant can feel extremely disappointing. When you are making progress, you may find yourself feeling more hopeful, proud, and motivated. There are some things that I often suggest to clients to try that may lead to the changes that they are wanting to make in their lives. Try following these six tips for making more progress in therapy.

Daydream about your goal being met

At the beginning of therapy, you and your therapist will talk about treatment goals. Some therapists have questions that involve the use of imagination for the purpose of goal setting. Even if you have been in therapy for a while, it can be helpful to remind yourself of signs that you are closer to your goal. Imagine what will be different about your thinking, your behavior, your coping, or your ways of relating to others. Every so often, discuss your vision with your therapist so that he or she can be looking for those signs of progress and encourage you upon noticing them.

Be patient with yourself

Almost all of us have heard of the quotes, “Progress is not linear,” and “Great things take time.” These are becoming trite statements; however, there is a lot of truth in them. We all have vulnerabilities. We cannot possibly predict the future or have a perfect prediction of how we will feel and for how long we will feel it. While we are not victims of life, we are not in complete control of it either. Furthermore, many people go to therapy for months and even years. It is very normal for an issue to not feel resolved even after a month or so of sessions. Distress can often make us feel rushed to get rid of the pain or “be better,” and put pressure on us “to just fix it.” Giving in to the temptation to rush yourself in your process can create even more distress. Try as best as you can to remember that you are not alone in wanting to “be better,” and that you can learn from every slip up, even one that feels enormous.

Make sure you are seeing a therapist that is a good fit for you

Sometimes personalities clashing in the therapy room can create therapeutic discussions; other times it can inhibit progress. The therapy room should feel like a safe space to say what is on your mind. If there is strong evidence that your therapist is not creating a safe space (e.g., overt judgmental statements, lack of cultural sensitivity), consider moving on to a new one. If you find someone that is a better fit, you may feel more comfortable to be your authentic self as well as express genuine thoughts and feelings.

Take time to reflect in between sessions

Reflection time is valuable because it allows your mind to further process what is happening currently in your life, how what you discussed in therapy applies to that, what happened during your moments of successful coping, and what moments felt difficult. Some reflection tools include (but are not limited to) journaling, meditation, praying, going on a walk, going on a long drive, or talking it over with a non-judgmental loved one. Making a habit of carving reflection time into your week can yield more insight and growth. It can also yield more productive conversations in subsequent therapy sessions. Equally important, when you reflect, you may be able to notice small signs of progress in yourself. Noticing these can be reinforcing and motivating.

Be consistent and on time

If you are in a moderate to high level of distress, it is clinically appropriate to meet with your therapist at minimum once weekly. Meeting with your therapist regularly, especially at the beginning of treatment, is important for establishing an effective therapeutic relationship. After several sessions, it often still can be ideal to meet weekly, as this can help you with better recall of content from previous sessions. It can also be helpful for your therapist in terms of making it easier for him or her to pick up on small shifts in thinking or mood. Making sure that you arrive to your session on time ensures that you will have more ample time to dive into a deeper, more productive conversation. If you are feeling a sense of dread or anxiety about coming in for a session, most therapists do not mind, and often encourage, conversations about these feelings. If your therapist is aware of any urges to avoid sessions, he or she can work with you and help you develop strategies for coping with pre-session stress.

Don’t expect your therapist to do it all

Think about the amount of time you’re in session relative to the amount of life you live outside of session. Your therapist cannot possibly be with you every second of your day to keep you accountable or remind you of things to consider. That being said, keeping the intention of practicing coping skills or reviewing takeaway points from your sessions can be helpful for taking responsibility for your own progress. In the end, this is your life and your time. It is ultimately up to you to make the most of it.