3 Ingredients for an Effective Psychotherapy Experience

Entering psychotherapy (especially if it is a new experience) is similar to attempting a new recipe you never tried before. It can be intimidating, and you might feel uncertain or anxious about how things will turn out. Will you achieve your goals? Will the end result meet your expectations? How will the experience feel? This article outlines three important, but not exhaustive, ingredients” that make for an effective psychotherapy experience.

Ingredient #1 Establishing a relationship with your therapist

The most important thing to know about starting psychotherapy is that you need to find a therapist or mental health counselor that you trust. There is an extensive body of research that suggests the relationship or “therapeutic alliance” between you and your therapist is one of the most important factors in successful treatment. When you begin a new psychotherapy experience, it is worth asking yourself a few questions:

  • What qualities am I looking for in a therapist?
  • Does my therapist make me feel hopeful or optimistic about the problems I face?
  • Do I feel like my therapist cares about and/or understands my problems and me?
  • Can I fully be myself with my therapist?
  • Can I be honest and open with my therapist?

Your relationship with your therapist will feel different compared to any other relationship. It might feel gratifying and intimate, and it will also come with strong boundaries that might make you feel anything from vulnerability to anger. Finding the right person to work with can make all the difference, when you are processing difficult emotions as they arise in psychotherapy.

If you’re not sure what you’re looking for in a therapist, setting up consultations with different providers or talking to your current therapist about your concerns or uncertainties can be helpful. They might have good ideas about how to work with you in the way that you need.

Ingredient #2 Be patient and allow the relationship time to work

It is tempting to pick a therapist or type of psychotherapy treatment marketed as fast, convenient and timesaving. A lot of research regarding psychotherapy tries to deduce which treatment gets the best results for most people in the shortest amount of time. Unfortunately, not all patients are the same, and what works for someone else is not necessarily going to be the best fit for you.

Just like the process of cooking, the process of therapy takes time before you get a feel for the experience, know what to expect, and find what fits best based on your needs and goals. In short, if you want to see results in psychotherapy, it is important to be patient, especially since many people feel worse after starting psychotherapy before they begin to feel better. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to stay with a therapist or type of psychotherapy that doesn’t feel helpful. There is a difference between dealing with some post-session blues versus staying in a therapeutic relationship that does not work for you.

Ingredient #3 Approach psychotherapy with an open mind

Psychotherapy is an unusual process. Often people’s reasons for being in psychotherapy change as the process continues and evolves. You might enter psychotherapy for one reason and realize within the process that you need to work on an entirely different issue, or that your problems are more complex than you thought. Being too rigid in psychotherapy, whether about getting better by a certain date or berating yourself for a relapse after a period of improvement, are all instances when you might feel tempted to quit. You might have thoughts like: can I really do this? Is this really for me?

When you have feelings about wanting to quit, end treatment, or make a change, you should think about where those feelings might be coming from and consider sharing them with your therapist. They have some important perspective on why you feel the way you do.

Lastly, effective psychotherapy is not solely about making positive change and seeing improvement. It is also about learning how to deal with disappointment and confusion, as well as finding peace and some balance in the face of life’s best and worst moments.

 What do you find most helpful about being in therapy?

Martha Early, LMSW

Martha Early, LMSW

Psychotherapist at myTherapyNYC
Offers individual and couples counseling in NYC. She specializes in Depression, Anxiety and Relationships.
Martha Early, LMSW

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3 replies
  1. Omar T
    Omar T says:

    Great blog! I like the way you’ve empowered the client to take ownership of the relationship by arming them with some questions to ask themselves in order to assess the therapeutic alliance. Great job!

  2. Kimia Moghadam
    Kimia Moghadam says:

    Amazing blog! it really highlights some very important points, which must be considered before entering psychotherapy.


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