How to be a good client

Let’s talk for a moment about the care and keeping of the rare and wonderful beastie we call the therapy session. Most people are not prepared for what it will be like to undertake therapy. Why would they be? We live in a society that still stigmatizes those who seek help, and often information about how therapy works is given second-hand by a friend or family member who has had treatment.  So to that end, I am writing a bit today about how to best take advantage of your session.

You can expect any therapist to do some pretty routine things when you come in for your first appointment. Most of us will ask you to fill out paperwork stating that you understand what kinds of risks and benefits clinical work presents, explains the limits of confidentiality, and tells you how that clinician will keep your private health information safe.  In addition, we usually want to know something about any past history of treatment you have had, and how helpful or not that was for you. We ask this so we can better tailor your treatment to your preferences. And, we want to assess for any other professionals we might need to refer you to in the course of our work together. Sometimes, I refer clients for a medication evaluation, or back to their family doctor to rule out physical problems that can masquerade as mental health issues. Finally, we will ask you to talk some about your hopes for how therapy can be helpful to you, and what goals you would like to work on in session. Often, family therapists inquire about your family of origin and other important relationships to understand in a systemic fashion how you relate to the world around you.

Now that you know how to get started, let’s look at three of the best ways to get the most bang for your therapeutic buck.

<!1)      Therapy is a team sport: Some clients are able to take better advantage of the therapy or life-coaching process. It’s not that these clients have less difficult problems, rosier histories, or even better coping skills than others. They simply do better because they are active participants in the process. While therapists are trained to ask good questions, we’re not mind readers– we’re facilitators that can help make the ‘stuck’ patterns in your life more transparent. If I assumed that I knew everything about you or had all the right answers for your life, I would be a pretty terrible therapist.  And, that would rob you of the important task of knowing that you have the strengths and insight to confront your troubles in a head-on fashion.  I have never met a client who does not have more success when they are able to take some ownership over the process.

<!2)      What’s the issue: Before you come in, think about what, specifically, you would like to be different in your life when the problem is not so powerful. Though it’s sometimes very comforting to think about merely the absence of the issue, what will really make your work more focused is articulating how your experience of yourself and others will look when you have become successful. Many clients have their “Ah-ha” moments when taking a considered look at what they are working towards, not what they are running away from. This can take several different forms. For example, I ask couples what, specifically and behaviorally their partner will be doing differently when the problem does not have as much influence. I often ask folks with anxiety to name 3 things they will be doing that will let them know they are on the right track. It’s best if these are very small things. Folks have told me everything from, “I will be smiling 3 times a day,” to “I will be telling my boss more often when I feel she is taking advantage of me.”

<   3) Be willing to cut yourself some slack:  When people ask me how long therapy will take, I often answer, “As long as it takes.” I tend to work briefly, and most of my clients find some relief from their presenting problems in around 12 sessions. However, if you have delayed coming into therapy for a long time, have experienced trauma or significant mental illness, or you need continued support as you implement changes, you might be charming me with your presence  for a bit longer. If you are able to give yourself permission to work at your own pace, you will be able to take better advantage of the time we spend together. You are trying to make changes in the way you think, experience, and behave. Whew, that’s some heavy lifting. Your whole life has trained you for the problems you are bringing in to resolve. Just as you wouldn’t want to tell the guy laying the foundation on your house to just hurry up, realize that you are laying the foundation for a better life. Love yourself enough to savor the courage it takes to undertake this kind of effort.

Your Partner in Healing,  Holly

If you would like to schedule an appointment or a free 15-minute phone consultation please contact me at or call 407.913.4988

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