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Advocating for Yourself: How do I get the most out of therapy?

One of the most common questions I receive as a departing therapist from previous places of employment from my clients is: Can I ask for what I want in a therapist? My answer is always: Yes, please advocate for yourself. After all, you are spending your time, money, and resources to find a therapist who will be able to assist you with navigating your concerns.

If you are here, it means you are likely trying to find the right fit for you. Of course, many people have different preferences. For example, areas of expertise, such as gender identity, of the therapist are essential. For others, it may be their professional discipline: licensed professional counselor (LPC), licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), marriage and family therapist (MFT), licensed psychologist (LP), and so on. Whatever you may be looking for, I hope you find the right fit. Below are three crucial steps for you to take when considering a therapist and questions you may ask for each step:

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Call the provider's group practice or the provider. 

If this is your first time seeking a therapist or if you've had a negative experience, it may be challenging for you to feel you can find a therapist who will understand and meet you where you are. Picking up that phone or using your fingers to type that email may feel intimidating. However, most providers are here to assist you. If your first contact with them is unpleasant, you know they are probably not the right fit for you. 

When trying to find a mental health provider, consider the following:

  • Professional background: education, license, years in practice, etc. 
  • Ethnic/Racial background
  • Areas of specialty/expertise (i.e., disordered eating, substance use, couples counseling, OCD, etc.)
  • Treatment approaches and theoretical orientation
  • Hours of operation and session lengths
  • Insurance and fees

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Interview the therapist.

Most therapists offer a free 15-minute consultation before scheduling an initial appointment. This step is similar to going on dates with an individual. You are not likely to date someone seriously before getting to know who they are. In the same way, before you commit to establishing a therapeutic relationship with a therapist, you can interview them. You can use the following questions to guide this brief consultation: 

  • Please tell me more about your professional experience.
  • Who are you outside of being a therapist? 
  • What do you feel is one of the most critical steps to building and maintaining an effective client/therapist relationship? 
  • What are the fees? Do you offer a sliding scale fee?
  • Tell me more about who you are as a therapist. For example, are you person-centered? Do you like to assign homework outside of the session? Are you assertive, and can you keep me accountable?
  • How long do you plan to work as a therapist here?

Advocate for your needs with the therapist.

Just as seasons change (at least in Wisconsin), an individual's needs from the beginning of therapy may change throughout treatment. Initially, you may require more attentiveness and listening skills from your therapist. However, you may need your therapist to offer more than an ear throughout treatment. You may need your therapist to keep you accountable, point out unhealthy behaviors, or provide tangible strategies to cope with your behaviors. Because of this, it is essential that you voice your needs. Therapists are not mind readers; they cannot know your thoughts unless you share them. Here are some questions you can ask at the beginning of treatment or even throughout: 

  • Is it okay for me to ask you what I need from you today?
  • Can we focus on a more supportive therapy session today? 
  • Today, I may need more strategies to cope with my concerns rather than a listening ear. 
  • Can you provide me with some tools to help me navigate this problem? I may need time to build trust and safety in our shared space for the first few weeks of therapy.
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How to get the most out of each session?

Now that you are in therapy, this is not the time to stop your work. Here are a few ideas to get the most out of each session:

  • Talk openly and honestly about your thoughts and feelings
  • Create a list of goals for yourself and work to achieve them
  • Come to every session with an open mind, ready to learn
  • Bring a notebook/journal that is mainly for therapy
  • If something isn't working for you, speak up! Your therapist wants to help you get better.

These tips were helpful as you embark on your journey to find a therapist that is the right fit for you. Finding a therapist, you connect with who meets all your needs may take some time. But don't give up! The process will be worth it when you finally find a therapist you can trust and who can help you work through whatever challenges you're facing. It is a partnership. Both you and your therapist will have to work together hand in hand to ensure your time in therapy is beneficial and effective. 

Amanda Lo is a Mental Health Therapist in Milwaukee, WI, who assists young adults in finding self-compassion, empowerment, and healing from grief. Contact her today by phone, texting, or scheduling a free 15-minute consultation online.

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