9 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Therapy
Therapy is a central feature of any addiction treatment program. The majority of people with substance use disorders have co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, major depression, personality disorders, PTSD, ADHD, schizophrenia, and others. Even those without a co-occurring disorder can benefit from discussing their thoughts around substance use and stress as well as learning new behavioral and coping strategies. Getting emotionally healthy is indispensable for a strong recovery. The following tips can help you make the most of your therapy sessions.
1.) Find the Right Therapist
If you are entering an addiction treatment program, there are probably only a few therapists but they should all have experience treating co-occurring addiction and whatever your particular challenge is. If you are choosing your own therapist out in the world, you have to be a bit more selective. Find someone near you--ideally within half an hour travel time--to make it easier to attend appointments consistently. Find someone with experience treating the issues you struggle with. Most therapists have some experience with depression and anxiety but fewer specialize in addiction. When you have narrowed down the field to maybe three candidates, see if you can talk over the phone or have a sort of trial session with each of them to see who you connect with most easily.
2.) Understand That Therapy Is a Collaboration
When you’ve found a good therapist, keep in mind that therapy is a sort of collaboration. Your therapist is like a professional consultant. They need a lot of cooperation from you. It’s not the case that you can walk in, tell them what’s wrong, and expect them to fix you. In fact, it’s a bad sign if your therapist does too much of your work for you--telling you exactly what to do, dictating your goals for therapy, and so on.
3.) Have Some Idea of What You Want to Accomplish
When you go to therapy, it’s a good idea to start out with some idea of what you want to accomplish. What’s bothering you that you decided to seek help? For most people, substance use is only a symptom of other problems but reducing or eliminating your substance use is a good objective to start with. You can work with your therapist to come up with other, more measurable objectives. You want to have some idea of whether you’re making progress in therapy and progress will look different for everyone.
4.) Don’t Censor Yourself
In normal conversation, we hold things back. Sometimes we don’t want to be too honest about our feelings or reveal too much about our past. Sometimes we just don’t want to say something that’s not relevant to the conversation. However, in therapy, it’s typically better just to say whatever is on your mind, even if you think it might be embarrassing or irrelevant. Honesty is essential, and it’s hard for your therapist to figure out what’s going on with you if you’re always being polite and curating your own thoughts and emotions. Furthermore, those odd, seemingly irrelevant thoughts that pop into your head may be more relevant than you think. Don’t worry about your therapist judging you; they’ve heard things you probably couldn’t imagine. And unless you make a credible threat against yourself or others, they are legally prohibited from sharing anything you say in a session.
5.) Ask Questions
Related to the point above, it’s good to ask questions. Indulge your curiosity. Ask questions about therapy, ask questions about psychology, ask questions about your therapist's experience with certain problems, ask questions about whether other people have the same problems as you, and so on. If there’s something your therapist isn’t allowed to reveal--such as information about other clients--they will make that determination. There’s no harm in asking if you’re curious.
6.) Talk About Therapy
It’s also good to talk about the process of therapy in your sessions. There may be times when you feel like you’re not making progress, you’re not really connecting with your therapist, or perhaps your priorities have shifted. It’s good to talk about these issues as soon as possible. They are often easy to fix. It takes a while to create a good therapeutic relationship, both in terms of sharing information and building trust, so if you’re in a situation where therapy was going well for a while but now it’s not, it’s certainly worth a conversation before quitting therapy or changing therapists.
7.) Do Your Homework
Your therapist will often ask you to do something between sessions. It may be a practical assignment like asking you to do at least one thing that makes you slightly anxious. Or it could be a written assignment, such as keeping track of times you feel angry during the week and what caused it. It’s important to take these assignments seriously since they are the bridge between your sessions and your life. If your therapist doesn’t give you homework, it’s still a good idea to keep a therapy journal. Write down briefly what you talked about, how you feel about it, and any thoughts or questions you have for next time.
8.) Keep an Open Mind
We all assume we know ourselves better than anyone else. That’s true in some ways, but we all have biases, blind spots, and patterns we’re not aware of. Much of therapy is about becoming more aware of your own behavior. This task is much harder when you cling to preconceived ideas about who you are, how other people see you, and how a person should act. Be open to at least considering suggestions that initially seem off base. Never forget that your best thinking is what got you into this mess to begin with.
9.) Set Boundaries
Finally, it’s usually a good idea to set boundaries around therapy. Some people in your life may be a little too interested in what you discuss in your sessions. They may be afraid they’ll get blamed for some of your problems or they may just be eager to give their own advice. Neither is really helpful. Be careful who you discuss your therapy sessions with. What goes on there is for you alone.
Therapy is central to addiction recovery because so much of addictive behavior is driven by challenging emotions that arise because of mental health issues. Although 12-Step meetings like AA and NA have helped many people, they aren’t designed to treat mental health issues, and so their benefit will be limited for many people. When participating in therapy, the most important thing to remember is that engagement is key. Your therapist may be best thought of as a sort of guide. They can help you get where you want to go, but you have to tell them where you want to go and you have to do the walking.
At Foundry, we know that mental and physical health form the solid foundation of recovery from addiction. We use cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, family therapy, group therapy, and other methods to treat co-occurring mental health issues. We also emphasize healthy lifestyle changes as a way to support mental health and addiction recovery. To learn more about our comprehensive approach to treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.