5 ways to get the most out of therapy

If you’re new to therapy, it can all seem a little overwhelming at first – and with so many different therapist profiles to read and jargon to decipher, it’s enough to make your head spin!


I speak from personal experience when I say this as I vividly remember feeling a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights the first time I saw a therapist – long before I was one myself. I’d never had therapy before; where should I even begin? How does this all work? What am I supposed to say? How do I know if I’m doing this right?  

My head was full of questions and insecurities. Not knowing what to expect only added to my worries, but I quickly learned that there was no right or wrong way of having therapy – there was just my way.    

The truth is that there is no set formula for therapy. Each therapist/client relationship will differ and there is no right or wrong. Therapy is a very unique and individual experience and so it’s about what works for you. But in very general terms, I have put together a list of tips that you may find useful when beginning the therapy process to help boost your confidence and offer some insight as to what you can expect. 

Five ways to help you get the most from your therapy sessions

1. Be open to the process

Before you step foot in the therapy room (or in front of a screen if working online), you need to be ready and willing to look at what’s happening in your life. It really does make a difference to the likely success of therapy if you are there of your own free will. If you’re there under duress, either because a loved one has offered an ultimatum and told you to go, or it’s a requirement of a court order for example, you need to keep in mind that you get out of therapy what you put in.    

Be open to the idea that it can help you. If you approach it with openness and genuine curiosity, you are far more likely to have a positive and transformative experience. Therapy is a process; Rome wasn’t built in a day and your problems won’t be resolved overnight either. Many people embark on a healing journey when they begin therapy that they didn’t even know they needed.  

Being listened to without judgement has the power to unlock parts of you that you may have worked hard to deny or suppress. Be curious about what comes up and see it as an opportunity to get to know yourself better.

2. Show up and do the work

Regularly attending sessions will go a huge way to improving your chances of success and achieving whatever you want to get from your time in therapy. Consistency is key, with most therapists seeing clients on a weekly basis, at least to begin with. If engaging in long-term therapy, it’s not uncommon for clients to shift to fortnightly or even monthly sessions but this is something to be discussed with your therapist and negotiated carefully between you.  

Therapy is work!  

I’m sorry to break it to you but there are no easy rides in the therapy room. It’s an opportunity to work out issues that have been causing you a problem for years; to really look at what’s been keeping you stuck, or to work through repetitive patterns to get to the root of why you keep falling in love with the wrong people.

There is no issue too big or small to discuss in therapy. It’s all valid and understanding what makes you tick will help you when thinking about what changes you want to make in your life. Increasing your self-awareness is the aim of therapy, whatever kind of therapy you choose.  

Your therapist can only support you as far as you are willing to go and so a definite commitment is needed. Asking yourself what you would like to achieve from therapy is a really good way to focus your time and also gives you and your therapist something to measure success by.

3. Be honest with yourself

Therapists are good lie detectors and you may think you have us fooled but really, in the long run, you’re only fooling yourself! There may be reasons why you find it difficult to show up with the truth – maybe you don’t fully trust your therapist. If this is the case, ask yourself if it’s because the relationship is new and you haven’t built the trust yet, or have you been working with them for some time and still don’t feel able to be vulnerable?

Working out what's stopping you from fully opening up will determine how you deal with it. If you have only just started working with your therapist, can you give it some time, perhaps a week or two to see if the trust between you builds? If you’ve been seeing them for a while and just don’t feel able to be open about things, is it that maybe this is the wrong therapist for you?

The relationship between therapist and client is so important and is the basis of the work you’ll do together. If it doesn’t feel right, maybe consider finding someone else. Your therapist will understand if you aren’t gelling and may even be feeling the same way.    

Maybe you just aren’t ready to accept the truth yet. Therapy can bring all sorts of thoughts and feelings to the surface and sometimes it can take time to acknowledge the reality of the situation. Often, in order to be able to accept a truth, we have to let go of the fantasy of what we want things to be like. Letting go often evokes a deep grief and sense of loss. Whatever the case, working through this with your therapist at your own pace is vital.

4. Give yourself time to reflect between sessions

I’m not going to sugar-coat it – therapy can be intense! It’s not uncommon to feel worse before feeling better. If you think about it, often things that have been long-hidden away are finally being allowed to surface and breathe – sometimes for the first time – and this can feel scary, unnerving and you may feel out of balance for a little while. Your therapist should prepare you for this and make sure they are holding you in safety, encouraging you to go gently on yourself between sessions.  

Sessions are usually weekly to allow time for processing in between. Often so much is said, felt and experienced in the therapy room and things need time to be absorbed and reflected upon before you might feel ready to accept them or think about how you might want to change. Make sure you give yourself some quiet time after each session to let the dust settle and regain a sense of equilibrium. Being kind to yourself is crucial. Sometimes people make stark discoveries about themselves that are hard to swallow. Remember though, self-awareness should never be used as a stick to beat yourself with.  

5. Work out how you will know when you’re done with therapy

Finally, it’s important to have a sense of what you want to get out of your time in therapy as this will determine the ending. An important question to ask yourself if your therapist doesn’t ask you is how will I know when I’m done?

Are there specific changes you want to make and do you want to keep going until you’ve achieved them? Is it that you want to be listened to and supported through a particularly difficult time and once things improve, you’ll end?

Having an idea of your goals and envisioning how you want to feel is a really good way to work out when your time in therapy is up. The ending of therapy is just as important as the beginning and middle and is something your therapist will want to manage to make sure you are safe to end. Often it involves reviewing what you’ve talked about together, how you feel now as opposed to when you began and what you’ve learned about yourself. You might discuss coping strategies for moving forwards and build a plan for what you might do if you feel like you’re struggling again.  

Whether you are new to therapy or a seasoned pro, the most important tip I can offer is that you show yourself some compassion. Remember, you are human. We are all works-in-progress and change is not likely to be a quick thing. Progress is often not linear and ups and downs are to be expected.  

I hope this helps to prepare you if you are thinking of having therapy for the first time, or even if you are a returning client. If you would like to work with me or ask about how I may be able to support you, why not book a free phone consultation through the link in my profile?  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Rayleigh SS6
Written by Janine Clifton, Counsellor/Therapist Dip. Couns Registered MBACP
Rayleigh SS6

I am a person-centred/integrative therapist working with adults from my private practice in Rayleigh, Essex. Through encouraging self-compassion and gentle curiosity, my aim is to help people feel more connected to themselves and to empower them to believe in their own ability to heal. I work with issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma & abuse.

Show comments

Find the right counsellor or therapist for you

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals