Getting started with talk therapy can be quite beneficial for your mental health. While attending sessions regularly is a good start, it’s also crucial to consider if you feel like you’re actively making progress with your therapist – even if that development is modest and steady.
Asha Tarry, a psychotherapist and mental health advocate says that as a new therapy client,
you should “absolutely know” why you are going to therapy in the first place, whether it’s for relationship or work problems, feeling depressed or anxious, grieving a loss, or anything else that needs to be worked through.
After determining your “why,” give your new therapist three to four sessions — the amount of time, it may take to build trust and feel comfortable — before determining how much you are getting from a particular therapist. Following that, you should ask yourself a series of questions to help you assess whether or not the therapist is a suitable fit.
Tarry believes that the most crucial attribute of any therapist is that they have the room to listen to you and let you know that they are listening to you.
“If you don’t notice it in the first three to four sessions, I would advise the client to have a dialogue with a therapist and just convey some of that, you know, you’re paying for care — you deserve to be heard, you need to be remembered,” she says. “And if you don’t feel that way, you should remark, ‘you know, I don’t feel like you’re quite grasping what I’m saying. I don’t believe you recall some of the things we discussed. I want to make sure we’re both accessible for this work.'”
Some therapists are overburdened with clients, leaving them little time to listen. But, according to Tarry, a therapist must communicate that they’ve “heard” you using verbal and physical clues and that they recall what they were told in earlier sessions.
Assessing your progress
Even if your therapist is attentive and makes you feel safe throughout a session, it might be tough to perceive your personal development. Tarry advocates keeping a notebook to monitor goals and the progress of weekly sessions as one approach to checking in with you. It may also include questions to ask your therapist that you may need to remember to ask during a session.
And don’t be scared to inform your therapist that you want to know more about your development.
“If you’re in a situation with an experienced therapist, you could ask, ‘Can you give me some feedback on how you think I’m doing?'” I have one client who asks for it, at minimum, every six months — like, ‘I think I’ve been doing a lot of work here. ‘I notice a difference… but what do you think?’ That’s when I know she’s looking for a report card.”
Jill Daino, a qualified Talkspace therapist, observes that therapy is not always “a linear process.”
“There will be times when you feel like you’re not getting the most out of therapy,” she says, “but it’s important to look at the overall process and ask yourself if you’re working on your objectives, symptoms, and worries that led you to therapy and ask, have things improved in these areas?”
If a therapist isn’t working out, that doesn’t indicate therapy will be ineffective. Daino believes that sometimes you and your therapist aren’t a “fit.” If that’s the case, she says, asking your present therapist for advice might be advantageous since “they have to get to know you and can discuss what you’re looking for in your next therapist to provide a recommendation.”
“The important thing is to communicate about your problems,” she adds. “A healthy therapeutic relationship is collaborative, with the therapist always looking out for your best interests.”