Starting talk therapy can be vital for taking care of your mental health. But while regularly attending sessions can be a great start, it’s also important to assess whether you feel like you’re actively making progress with your therapist — even if that progress is slow and steady.
For starters, according to Asha Tarry, a psychotherapist, author, life coach and mental health advocate, 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 issues, feeling depressed or anxious, grieving a loss or anything else that needs working through.
After identifying your “why,” you should give your new therapist three to four sessions — the amount of time it could take to build trust and feel comfortable — before really assessing how much you are getting from a particular therapist. After that, it’s important to ask yourself a series of questions that can help determine whether or not the therapist is a good match.
Perhaps the most important quality of any therapist, Tarry says, is that they have the space to truly listen to you — and that they also let you know that they are hearing you.
“If you don't notice that in those first three to four sessions, I would encourage the client to actually have a conversation with a therapist and just express some of that, you know, you're paying for service — you deserve to be heard, you deserve to be remembered,” she notes. “And if you don't feel that way, you should say, ‘You know, I really don't feel like you're quite getting what I'm telling you. I don't feel like you're remembering some of the things we talked about. I just want to make sure that we're both available to do this work.’”
Some therapists are overwhelmed with big client loads, leaving them with limited space to listen. But it's vital, Tarry says, that a therapist makes it known that they’ve “heard” you, with verbal and physical cues, and remembers what they were told in previous sessions.
Assessing your progress
Even if your therapist is listening to you and making you feel safe in a session, it can be difficult to see your own progress. One way to check in with yourself, Tarry suggests, is by keeping a journal, which tracks goals and progress of sessions on a weekly basis. It can also include questions to ask your therapist that you may forget to bring up in the midst of a session.
And don't be afraid to tell your therapist that you'd like to hear details on your progress.
“If you're in a space with a competent therapist, you could say, ‘Can you give me some feedback on how you think I'm doing?’ I have one client that asks for that, at minimum, every six months — like, ‘I think I've been doing a lot of work here. I feel the change… but what do you think?’ That's my cue that she wants a report card.”
“There will be times when you might think that you are not getting the most out of therapy," she notes, "but it is important to look at the overall process and ask yourself if you are working on your goals, symptoms and concerns that brought you to therapy and [ask], have things changed in these areas?”
If a therapist isn’t working out, that doesn’t mean therapy itself won’t work. Sometimes, Daino says, you and your therapist simply aren’t a “match.” If that’s the case, she says, it can actually be beneficial to ask your current therapist how to proceed, as “they have to come to know you and can discuss what you are looking for in your next therapist in order to make a recommendation.”
“The key is to talk about your concerns,” she adds. “A good therapy relationship is collaborative, with the therapist holding your best interests in mind.”
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