How to make therapy work for you

Mary Feamster
3 min readDec 7, 2020
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Through my years of work as a counselor, mental health educator, friend, and human; I’ve had A LOT of conversations with people about their mental health treatment journeys.

I often hear people say “ I tried therapy, it just didn’t work for me”.

Too often.

I’m very much in support of folks exploring other mental health treatments and self-help methods, and I know talk-therapy isn’t going to be right for everyone. However, I think that in many cases the problem isn’t that talk therapy would never work for that individual, but rather that their therapeutic experience was ill-timed, unstructured, or not the right fit. Here are my best suggestions to help you have a positive, successful therapy experience:

-Have a phone consultation before seeing someone for the first time. Most therapists offer a free 15–20 minute consult. Take them up on it! This isn’t a free therapy snippet, it’s a way for you and the professional to size each other up and decide if you’re a good match for one another. It will give you a chance to ask questions and get a feel for how comfortable you are talking to this person.

-Do some research. Consider looking up evidence-based approaches to the problem you’re looking to address. If you know someone who has gone through treatment for something similar, ask what worked for them. When you consider a therapist, look up their listed therapy models or theoretical orientation. Make sure any therapists you consider have training and experience working with your population. For example, if you’re seeking help for an eating disorder, you want someone with training and experience specific to eating disorders. If you’re a trans person seeking depression treatment, you may want a therapist who has experience working with the trans population as well as depression.

-Be ready to do the work. Before scheduling a session, ask yourself if you’re ready to do therapy homework, track your symptoms and moods, practice new behaviors, challenge your thought patterns, and establish healthier habits and coping skills. Some or all of these things may be a part of your treatment plan.Therapy can be really hard work, and in many cases you’re not going to feel better or get better without diving in and dealing with tough stuff. Make sure you’re ready to dedicate the necessary time and energy to this process before you begin.

-Have an idea of what you want and what you’re willing to work on. Your therapist should guide you through making treatment goals, but the better you identify what you want to work on, the better they can help.

-Be realistic in your goal setting. Understand that therapy is going to take some time, and that there is no magic. In some cases, you may not fully resolve your problem, but you can learn better tools and strategies to manage it.

-Be fully honest with your therapist (and with yourself). I can’t stress this enough. Your therapist can’t help to their full ability if you withhold information. Please don’t think that your therapist will judge you or treat you differently if you’re fully open with them. Rather, a full picture of what is going on in your life is going to help your therapist understand your needs and give you the best possible treatment.

-Give feedback. If there is a method that isn’t working for you, or if you feel like your sessions aren’t focusing on what feels most important, have an open conversation about it with your therapist. You should feel empowered to give input to make sure sessions are meeting your needs.

-Be willing to consider firing your therapist. If you want therapy but you’re not getting what you need or you’re not connecting with your provider, it may not be a good match. Therapy is all about trust. If you don’t feel like you can establish a trusting, working relationship with your current therapist, consider looking around for a better fit.

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Mary Feamster

Therapist, momma, lover of the outdoors. Here to talk openly about mental health.