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How To Get the Most Out of Therapy

Use These Tips to Maximize Your Success in Therapy

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Updated May 29, 2010

Wondering how you can get the most out of therapy? There are a number of very effective psychotherapies for borderline personality disorder (BPD), but not everyone has success in treatment. The same goes for various other mental health concerns. Sometimes this is because the therapy just isn’t the right fit, or because other treatments are needed before the therapy can be helpful.

Still, there are times when the success of therapy is related -- completely, or in part -- to factors that are in your control.

We still don’t know why some people get relief from therapy while others continue to struggle. However, there are some things you can do to get the most out of therapy and make your chances of success greater.

Develop a Good Therapy Relationship

Years of research have shown that one of the single most important factors in the success of any psychotherapy is how comfortable you feel with your therapist. If you feel like you have a good working relationship (sometimes referred to as the “therapeutic alliance”), you are much more likely to get the most out of therapy. Therapeutic alliance isn’t completely in your control -- sometimes you will just feel more comfortable with one therapist as compared to another. But, being willing to work on the relationship with your therapist, rather than just writing him off if things get bumpy, can do a world of good.

Stick It Out

I won’t say that you shouldn’t quit therapy, because there are lots of legitimate reasons to quit. But, quitting early means that you don’t get the benefits you could have if you had stuck it out. It also often means you miss the opportunity to work through issues rather than cutting and running when things get rough.

Be Willing to Be Vulnerable

Many people come into therapy with a lot of fear about “letting their guard down.” Unfortunately, if you can’t open up to your therapist, you will probably not get a lot out of therapy. Of course, sometimes learning to be vulnerable and open in a relationship is part of the learning of therapy, so it may take time. But, if you’re not willing to try, your chances for a good outcome are less.

Be Honest

Sometimes people have worries or concerns about therapy (or their therapist), but are afraid to bring them up in therapy for any number of reasons. They may be fearful of hurting the therapist’s feelings, shameful about the topic being discussed, etc. But if you have any concern, you should definitely bring it up. In general, bringing up a relevant topic, versus keeping the topic buried, leads to much more effective therapy.

Do Your Homework

Good therapy isn’t just about the hour or two that you spend in therapy sessions each week. It’s about taking what you have learned or observed in your sessions and really working on those things in the outside world -- at work or school, in your relationships, etc.

Therapy works best when you are willing to push yourself outside of your own comfort zone in all of these areas and try things that are new, unfamiliar, and often scary. In fact, some kinds of therapy (for example Dialectical Behavior Therapy) will involve specific homework assignments that you must complete and even keep track of on paper. If you skip out on the assignments, you probably won’t get the same result as if you follow through.

Be An Informed Client

One of the most important things you can do to make therapy successful is to be an empowered and informed client. Remember that this is your therapy. You are in charge of what happens and when. Do your research so that you know what you should be getting from therapy. Keep yourself informed of new developments and treatments that may benefit you. Share your ideas, goals, values, and plans with your therapist.

You can use resources right here at About.com. Read articles about your concern, stay up-to-date with related news by reading our blogs, and even sign up for newsletters.

Attend Regularly

If you don’t attend therapy regularly, it is unlikely to be helpful to you. When your life gets hectic, or you’re feeling depressed, you may find that you lose motivation to attend your therapy sessions. However, these are precisely the times when it is most important to get to your session. Remind yourself that going to therapy is like taking medicine -- if you skip doses, it just doesn’t work.

Sources:

Martin DJ, Garske JP, Davis MK. “Relation of the Therapeutic Alliance with Outcome and Other variables: A Meta-Analytic Review, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68:438–450, 2000.

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