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How to Get the Most Out of Therapy

Roland Evans offers mentoring and supervision for therapists and work with growth and spiritual-oriented clients using Jungian dreamwork, EMDR, and hypnotherapy.

Last Updated on March 4, 2024 by It’s Complicated

There are many different kinds of psychotherapy: some more practical, focused on changing your thinking and behavior; some more reflective, focusing on personal insight; some more supportive, focused on emotional growth. Whatever the therapy or therapist you choose, personal change is seldom simple or easy. Effective psychotherapy is demanding, but with the right attitude you can reap immense, life-changing rewards.

Like every important endeavour, what we gain mirrors what we put in. The more time and attention we devote to personal change, the more we achieve—and the more we positively influence those around us. Often the effort we make between sessions is as important as the sessions themselves. 

Therapy takes time, money and focus, so it is sensible to make the most of every session and any suggestions from your therapist. Below are some suggestions about the attitudes and actions that will help you make progress and gain most from psychotherapy. 


The most important mindset in therapy is our intention. Most often, we come to therapy to feel better, to improve our relationships and to make better choices. Therapeutic intention is a commitment to be fully engaged in healing, changing and growing. The stronger our intention and commitment, the more likely we are to experience the benefits.

Therapy can be hard work. From time to time, we may feel like nothing is happening or believe we’re not making progress or even going backward. This is normal and the time when intention and determination is most important. As long as we feel therapy is helpful, we need to keep renewing our commitment. 

Many of the rewards of therapy happen without our knowing. Shifts of feeling, thinking and being most often change outside of our awareness. Our primary motivation may be to resolve painful issues or problematic behaviors. However as these shift, we may find our intention moves more toward personal growth and development. As long as we hold a positive intention, we will keep changing and growing.

Questions to consider: What do I really want from therapy? How important is personal change to me? How much time, money and effort am I willing to put into therapy? 

Stuckness and Resistance

We most often come to therapy because we’re stuck. We’ve tried all sorts of ways to resolve the issues and not been successful. It’s as if a part of us is unable to put into practice what we need to do —even when we know what it is. Why is this?

As human beings we constantly balance our need for stability with our need for change. When we are anxious, depressed or threatened we tend to cling to what is familiar and known. A part of us, trying to keep us safe, resists change and puts the brakes on. It is not easy to face painful, disturbing and unfamiliar aspects of our experience. However, this is essential for personal change to take place.

Deeply ingrained beliefs, traumatic experiences, losses and disappointments do not simply disappear. They leave an enduring imprint on how we think, feel and behave. Often, as these are exposed in therapy, we may feel conflicted and back away from the topic. Certain experiences are painful and we don’t want to deal with them. This is part of our resistance to change.

It is normal to avoid uncomfortable subjects, but when this happens in therapy it can be frustrating and slow down progress. Resistance appear in different guises, so it is important to notice as it happens. Here are some examples:

  • You tend to cancel sessions or come late
  • You have an insight during the session but forget it on the way home
  • The therapist suggests a homework task; it slips off your radar and you do it half-heartedly
  • You find yourself arguing with the therapist, mentally or out loud 
  • The therapist upsets you, but you minimize your feelings and don’t say anything. 

Questions to consider: What do I think, feel or do that keeps me stuck? What topics do I avoid thinking about? What am I not sharing or telling my therapist?

For therapy to be most effective, we strengthen our intention and minimize our resistance. Below are some practical suggestions. Choose those that suit you best and make them a part of your therapeutic journey. Be courageous but also patient and gentle with yourself.

Before a Session

There’s an art to getting ready for a session. At best, you strike a balance between being mentally prepared and letting go of particular outcomes.

  • Review your experiences during the week; consult your journal to remind yourself of dreams and important events.
  • Decide on some themes and experiences you want to explore but do not create a rigid list.
  • If you were asked to do homework, think about how it went and how it was helpful or not.
  • Take a few moments before the session to get settled. Notice how you are feeling, particularly any anxiety you feel about sharing particular topics.

Within the Session

Therapy helps you understand your difficulties and discover ways to live a more positive life. You should feel heard, understood by your therapist and hopeful that things will change for the better. Unexpected feelings, memories and realizations will surface, so you may feel stirred up and unsettled. A beneficial session is not always what you expect: you leave feeling different but not always ‘better’. You may not recognize the positive benefits until some time later.

  • Be as open and forthcoming as you can. Try not to censor or hide behind your words.
  • Don’t rush or jump around topics. Take your time to let the therapist’s comments/suggestions settle.
  • Tolerate silence and use it to explore what is happening inside you.
  • Tell your therapist if you feel misunderstood or unheard.
  • Be curious about your experience, particularly unusual images, thoughts and feelings. 
  • Occasionally you may have strong reactions to your therapist. Be brave and speak about any feelings.
  • Capture insights and homework suggestions; write them down so you don’t forget.
  • After a session, take care of yourself, particularly if you feel stirred up or drained.

Between Sessions

It takes commitment of time and effort to do therapeutic work between sessions. Create a routine and reminders to help you pay attention to your inner and outer experience.

  • If appropriate, do the homework your therapist suggests.
  • Keep a journal of important dreams, experiences, memories, conflicts and insights.
  • Cultivate ways to soothe yourself and calm your mind: walk in nature, take hot baths, read, pray, listen to music, meditate, etc. 
  • Make time to think about and reflect on your experiences. 
  • Look for inspirational and therapeutic books and videos. Ask your therapist for recommendations.

Therapy is not meant to be a burden or a drudge. The overarching goal is to expand and enhance the quality of your inner and outer life. There will be times of distress and inner disturbance, but with a supportive therapist and your own hard work, you will enjoy immeasurable benefits. 

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It’s Complicated is a therapy platform that not only helps clients find their perfect therapist but also supports therapists in their craft of helping others. Featuring over 2,000 mental health professionals from 80+ countries, counselling is available in almost 100 languages, both online and in person. A GDPR-compliant video solution, encrypted messaging, and easy invoicing guarantee a private and seamless counselling experience for therapists and clients alike. If you are in a serious crisis and need urgent help, please use one of these resources instead.

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