5 Ways to Prepare for a Successful Therapy Session

Attending therapy costs effort, time, and money. Here’s five ways you can prepare for your sessions to make sure you maximize the benefits.

1. Think about what's happened since the previous session

Take some time to go over the events of your life since your last appointment. Prepping your level of self-awareness before your session will help you identify links between the therapy and your daily life. For example, maybe you and your therapist are working on your difficulties being assertive enough at work. In that case, think about how your job has gone over the past week and any moments where your challenges with being assertive showed up. Or, maybe you’re working on mood-related issues. In that case, it will help to think back to the times over the past week where your mood was especially pleasant or low – are there any patterns?

2. Remember your goals

Therapy works best when you are aiming at a goal. A goal can be specific (“I am here to improve my ability to have a good relationship with my son”) or general (“I want to improve my overall quality of life”). Reminding yourself why you’re attending your session will benefit your motivation for change and ensure your therapy remains a place where you go to do meaningful work. It will also help you get more out of your sessions because it will reduce the time your therapist will spend motivating you, and allow more time for other progress to be made.

3. Prepare your space

If you’re participating in therapy via video, do yourself the favour of preparing a space in which you’ll be undisturbed and undistracted. Set some expectations for the people you live with that you’re unavailable until your session is finished. If you have pets, put them in another room (cute though they may be). Straighten up the room so you’re not sitting in the middle of a mess while your trying to do your work. Get the temperature right. Mute your phone. Have a drink ready.

4. Get into a state of mind conducive to therapy

For some of us, life can be busy and chaotic. But even though finding time might be challenging, take 5-10 minutes before your session to take a few breaths, be still, and put down the cares of the day for the time being. An interesting but unsurprising thing happens when clients lead busy and stressful lives, and go straight from those circumstances into their sessions – they bring the chaos into the session. This phenomenon has been increasingly apparent to me when I’m doing virtual therapy, the nature of which makes it convenient for clients to do something else right up until the minute their session starts. Providing your therapist is skillful and attentive enough to notice this without being drawn into it, they’ll try to get you onto an even keel so you can participate effectively. But, this takes time away from the real reasons you’re coming every week, and impedes the results your looking for. Taking time to ground yourself before your session respects the time, effort and money you are about to spend on it.

5. Do your "homework"

Sometimes, I’ll assign some form of task for you to complete between sessions. I might ask you to make a list of things that make you angry, or to consider how a childhood event might have affected you, or have an important conversation with a loved one you’ve been having trouble finding the time for. I’ve noticed there is a big difference between clients who complete these tasks, and those who don’t, in terms of results. Doing homework is useful because it can allow you to make progress without the supervision of your therapist, which saves you money and speeds up the process. It also brings the work you’re doing in therapy into your daily life – which is the whole reason most people see a therapist in the first place! The processes of healing and growth that are central to successful therapy are not confined to sessions. Eventually, you have to apply the gains your making to your daily life, and homework is a way your therapist will help you do that. 

But no matter what...

You might find it difficult to do all this prep before each session. That’s fine. Life happens, and the important thing is that you show up, even when you don’t feel at your best. Don’t make these tips into rules you have to follow because if you break them, you’re a bad client. They are actually demonstrations of self-respect to the part of you that wants to learn, improve, heal, and grow.