The therapy hour is wonderful. We can dive deep, reflect, and have new emotional experiences, all while feeling the support, encouragement, and kindness of our therapist. But this is only one hour, and we want to make sure that we are benefiting during the rest of the week too! So how do we take advantage of all the time that occurs in between sessions?
I like to think of therapy sessions similarly to going to church: it’s great if you practice having virtuous qualities while you are in a church service, but if you completely forget about your faith for the rest of the week, are you really reaping the benefits of spiritual practice? Likely not.
Likewise, in therapy, it’s wonderful to be able to practice self-reflection while you are in the therapy session, but if you don’t bring that awareness into the time in between sessions, your progress towards your goals will be slow.
The first couple sessions of therapy may involve a lot of questions on the part of the therapist. The therapist will be assessing different areas of your life with the intention of fully understanding your experience of what the “problem” is.
One of the things that you and your therapist will do together is identify your goals. This is something that can be woven throughout a therapeutic relationship and doesn’t have to only occur in the beginning. If you are coming to therapy because you feel anxious all the time, for example, one of your goals might broadly be to “reduce anxiety.” Later on, you may realize that most of your anxiety is concentrated around self-image and not feeling capable, and that what you really want, more specifically, is to feel confident at work and in relationships.
Your therapist may help you notice patterns of reactivity, understand how your history could be contributing to the pattern, develop self-compassion, and come to have corrective emotional experiences that allow you to feel connected to others rather than disconnected and fearful. Your therapist may provide you with practical tools, helpful and empowering knowledge, and create a safe space for connecting deeply with your emotions to allow for new relational experiences.
And this is all wonderful when it happens during your one hour together during the week, but for therapy to be truly effective, you must also have changes that occur outside of therapy, in your day-to-day life. That is, after all, where most of your life is being lived!
So how do we take advantage of the time in between sessions and make the most of the therapy hour?
Here are a few things you can do. You may not resonate with all of them, and that’s okay. They are only suggestions, and if it seems supportive, try it, and otherwise, leave it:
- Journal about things that come up for you during the week. Maybe at the end of each day, jot down some notes about how the day went. It could even be bullet points written in the Notes App of your phone. Notice what went well and what didn’t go as well as you had hoped.
- When a conflict or painful experience occurs, later on when you are feeling more relaxed, ask yourself: How did I want to handle that situation? What really happened instead? What was the outcome? Can I identify different parts of me and what each part wanted in that situation?
- Imagine what your therapist might tell you, were you to share about something difficult that happened that day.
- Try something different. Be open to the possibility that as you experience change in your life, you may find there are opportunities to do things a little differently. Try them and see what happens.
- Keep coming back to your goals throughout the week. If one of your goals is to feel less depressed, in any given moment, what seems to be in the way of achieving that goal? Where is the depression when you check in with yourself during the week? You may realize certain thoughts or feelings that are always there, or you may come to realize there are some moments when you aren’t depressed and that can also be useful to know.
- In addition to problems or struggles, make sure to notice when things are going well too. Your therapist can be your biggest cheerleader and would also love to hear about anything that brought you joy, however slight. Having positive feedback when we share our triumphs is just as therapeutic as receiving support when we are sad or upset.
Engaging in some of the reflections above can help you take advantage of the space in between sessions and to clarify those moments of “stuckness” in your own life. If you keep in mind that therapy is all about providing a resource for you to experience desired change, then coming into therapy saying, “Hey, this is exactly where I get stuck,” can help you to make the most of therapy, both inside and outside of sessions.
- Nina Tomkiewicz, LCSW
- To schedule an appointment with Nina, click here!