• Dr Phoebe Lau

3 Tips for Successful Therapy (Part 2)

Updated: Mar 11, 2019

There are so many aspects that can influence the outcome of therapy, but I hope that some of these tips may give you guidance on what to expect and what to look out for in therapy. Check out Part 1 if you missed it.


Photo by Nias Nyalada

Guidance

If you want someone to tell you how to think and feel, you may as well ask some of your well-intended friends and family. One of the most useful feedback I have received from my clients is that I never tell them what to do. Admittedly, it’s sometimes hard not to straight-out tell my clients my perspective when a few have tried to plead and convince me to tell them “what I would do”. However, when I've asked my clients the reason why it has been so important for their journey that I don’t tell them what to do, they have said that it drowns out their voice.


If a therapist’s voice is too loud, it drowns out your voice. One of the most important goals in therapy (whether this is acknowledged openly or not) is for the client to find their own inner voice and learn to rely on it. Be wary of a clinician who tells you what to do, what to say, and how they would react in that situation. A therapist’s job can be complex, but at the core, it’s to guide you through the rocky landscape of problems and barriers, and then discuss the options of the few paths that lie before you.


(Risk to your safety and the safety of others are an exception to this.)


Approach

Approaches in therapy relies on the therapist's ability to balance both the art of therapy and the science of psychology. Some therapists are highly trained to integrate a number of different therapy approaches to tailor to your needs. People need different approaches at different stages of therapy. They may even need more than one approach within one session. 


In my experience some people may need a very cognitive “thinking” approach in the first stage of therapy (or even throughout therapy). They may be afraid of “going crazy” or battling with the infamous, “there’s something wrong with me” belief, so they hold onto reason and logic. This works - for a time. I’ve had clients return to me after a successful “initial stage” of therapy when they have mastered the cognitive skills. They return because their thoughts aren’t seperate from their emotions or from their past. Basically, we don’t stop at our necks. Eventually, issues resurface or problems manifest in another area even though they believe they have “mastered” many of the cognitive skills. So we move onto their next stage of therapy with an approach that meets them where they are in their process. 


For other people, the cognitive approach is not aligned with how they are naturally and they may need a more emotion-focused approach to start. The cognitive skills may then be gently weaved into the therapy as they explore their emotions and settle into vulnerability. 

A good therapist meets the client in their therapy journey and can tune into when their client needs a different approach. They can weave different approaches to suit the individual. Obviously, some people like a  straightforward, step-by-step approach to therapy, and the therapist will just meet them with what they need. 


Barriers

There are so many barriers that can pop up in therapy, but let’s just briefly focus on one here. If you’re feeling a sense of “stuckness” in therapy, it is most likely that your therapist senses the same and they are already trying to figure out the barriers that are contributing to this feeling. Now this may be the point where many people drop out of therapy or ghost their therapist. They might think, “therapy’s not working”, “it’s not for me”, or “she/he’s not helpful”. 

Photo by Drew Hays

The best way to move through barriers is to be open about them. Let’s remind ourselves that therapists don’t have special mind-reading powers, no matter how attuned they are. But they do have grit and they value the relationship (see Part 1). I always ask my clients to let me know if I get off-track or if they’re starting to find therapy really hard. There’s no point if I’m chugging away on a track and my client has the hand-brake on. It’s painful for everyone. I welcome the feedback because at the end of the day, I want my clients to succeed and find therapy helpful.


Sometimes I’ve said something like, “I notice that we’re covering the same ground here, and that we’re both feeling stuck. Let’s think about what’s going on.” 

But there’s no reason why you (the client) can’t say, “I’m not feeling like we’re moving forward and I’m wondering what your thoughts are?”, or “I’m feeling a lot of resistance to therapy at the moment - I thought about dropping out”. 

There’s no brushing things under the carpet here!


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