10 Ways To Create Rapid, Lasting Change In Therapy
Many of my clients tell me that they make more progress with me in a few sessions than they did with previous providers in years. This is likely because my style of direct feedback and immediate interpretation meshes well with these clients. It is also because I work best with motivated, verbal clients who have found me via my posts and already have “buy in” with my straightforward approach. However, there some aspects of my approach that can be used on the client side if the client is aware of how these tips can supercharge therapy and hasten progress. Here are some points that anyone can use to get the most out of their therapy experience with me or any other therapist.
- Recognize that most of the change will happen in the first six months BUT IT IS NOT INSTANT EITHER. This is what treatment outcome research says, and my clinical experience bears it out. My clients are told this and moderate their expectations accordingly. You need to work hard in the first six months, which will mean supplementing your sessions with outside work, as I will discuss. But do not assume that your first three sessions will cure your years-long battle with depression, as I am not Houdini.
- If the first few sessions provide you with no insight, move on. In my first session, I leave clients with a conceptualization of what is going on and how it relates to their past history, as well as ideas on how to break the dysfunctional patterns that the client is struggling with. Momentum needs to be built in the first few sessions, or people lose steam and buy-in. If you don’t like me after the first couple sessions, you will never like me and you should move on! Same with any other therapist. People wait months and months to see if they will click with a therapist, but the type of clicking that yields rapid and meaningful change does not take that long to develop.
- Read outside of session. I provide clients with relevant books and articles to read in the time between sessions. If you want to turbocharge progress, you cannot only work in session. Here’s a list with many of the books I often pull from. I also recommend TV shows and movies. You can books and other materials that pertain to your situation on your own if you read my blog or do other research online.
- Check your ego at the door. If you are not able to accept feedback from a therapist, there is no real reason to spend your money on therapy. You can likely get supportive listening for free from a friend or a support group. Supportive listening is well and good, but is unlikely to lead to any sort of rapid or lasting change. Receiving feedback openly and with curiosity and a desire to know more will effect quicker and deeper growth. I myself give a lot of open feedback starting in the initial session, and people who do well with this generally progress fairly quickly thereafter.
- Be flexible. People tell me that they don’t want to get divorced but they can only do couples work from 6-7pm Tuesday or alternate Thursdays and not when they travel for work. Let me tell you, your schedule will have to be a lot more flexible after divorce to accommodate your custody schedule and your lawyer meetings, so probably you can also use your lunch break for therapy if it can prevent divorce.
- Come from a place of yes. I offer a lot of interpretations and insights about links with past behavior, including what you experienced in your family of origin. Sure, every idea I have, or that any other therapist has, will not be spot on, but many of them are very useful, if only because I have seen so many clients throughout my career that it is easy to see similarities. You likely use similar cognitive algorithms to work more effectively in your own career. Coming from a place of “I can see that and I need to think more about it” versus “No that isn’t right [often this means: This makes me uncomfortable so I want to think it’s not right]” will really fast track progress and insight-building.
- Do your assignments and/or expect to talk about why you didn’t do them. Especially with couples, behavioral assignments are key to changing habits and dynamics. If I tell you to sit near each other and do a quiz online together, don’t tell me week after week that you didn’t have enough time. If you do tell me this, expect to explore it and what it means about your relationship and your commitment levels as a whole. I will tell you that when people deeply commit to engaging in all assignments given, this expedites progress massively.
- Don’t take yourself so seriously. Related to the ego point above but more about having the grace to laugh at yourself. When people want to change without confronting anything they are doing wrong, this cannot logically work. The clients who make the most progress can observe themselves and laugh at the times that they are doing things that are obviously not helpful and counter to what we are working on. Defensiveness is natural, but the sooner clients can power through this and look in their counterproductive behaviors with humor and objectivity, the quicker they will progress.
- Don’t skip sessions. Many of my clients are every other week, which means if you skip a session, you won’t see me for a month. This is no way to make progress. If you have to cancel that’s understandable, but be flexible about rescheduling and try to generally preserve your session time as sacred and protected.
- Last but not least: Don’t act threatening or mean to the therapist and expect this to “not count.” Certainly one of the prime benefits of therapy is that I get to see how you act with other people. This is called transference and it means that you will begin to behave with me as you do in other close relationships. But some people, often those with narcissistic traits, have literally told me that because I am a therapist, I “don’t count” and if they scream at me in session that “shouldn’t matter.” I am a human and can tell you that if you berate your therapist, me or anyone else, they will respond as any other human would, by either not wanting to spend anymore time with you OR being scared to challenge you in the future. Then you will be recreating what you do with others in your life: making them walk on eggshells while you avoid any difficult self-awareness or growth. If you scream at me, be sure that we will discuss it and its relevance to your other interpersonal relationships, and if you continue to do it after exploration, we will have to terminate our work together. If you are wondering how often this happens, it’s not very often but it’s often enough for me to include this point!
My professional site is here so feel free to reach out to me directly for therapy, either couples or individual, if you believe we would be a good fit. If you cannot work with me, though, hopefully this post helped you clarify some of what you may want to look for or try with other providers. And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Ain’t Nobody Got Time For Unhelpful Therapy.
Order Dr. Rodman Whiten’s books, 52 Emails to Transform Your Marriage and How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family, and listen to The Dr. Psych Mom Show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts. If you need therapy, check out her online group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.
This blog is not intended as medical advice or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation with a medical professional. If you try this advice and it does not work for you, you cannot sue me. This is only my opinion, based on my background, training, and experience as a therapist and person.