It is very rare that we have one, single motive or reason for doing what we do. We are mixtures of competing and colluding internal voices, both conscious and unconscious, that control our choices and range of possible behaviors. Understanding them to make intelligent choices in our lives is the work of therapy. To that end, here are 7 Guidelines for Successful Therapy.

Successful therapy is not a 100-yard dash, so prepare yourself for a bit of wandering in the woods. Often when a therapist poses a question, your tendency will be to give the “right” answer. Sometimes, the first, off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness answer reveals what’s uppermost in your mind. More often, however, it tells the therapist that you are more interested in getting it right than considering alternative ways of thinking or being—in short, looking at inward possibilities. Take time to think, consider alternatives, and be creative in your journey inside.

Do homework. If your therapist doesn’t assign homework, then keep a journal, or take time half-way through the week to return to the psychological headspace. Find time to meditate a bit, recall your last session, and ask yourself what about that session is unresolved. The goal is not to reach an answer but to continue the discussion and nurture psychological thinking, which in turn will propel and deepen your therapy.

Come to your weekly therapy sessions no matter what. Besides moving the process along at a regular pace, it allows you to subconsciously file away issues and occurrences for further consideration. It’s also a signal to yourself that you care enough to take care of yourself, subtly boosting your self-esteem.

Tell the truth, the whole truth. And when it’s not the truth, admit that it’s not the truth. Sometimes it can be very hard to tell the truth, but your therapist holds your information private (mandated reporting aside) and your process of identifying the truth in order to speak it is in itself therapeutic. Just hearing yourself saying things out loud can alleviate suffering. If you have trouble telling the truth, say so, and ask your therapist to help you discover your truthful voice. The truth sets you free.

Have a sense of humor. Humor is as essential to psychotherapy, in my opinion, as it is to life. Working on intimate, difficult issues with a therapist—with any human being—can leave you feeling vulnerable, irritable, raw, sometimes even a little alone in the universe. A shared moment of humor reminds us sometimes of the absurdity of life, of the strange happenings and connections that we make which suddenly strike us funny. Sharing that moment in therapy is a healing moment, and it really does provide another perspective on things.

Along with introspection, another habit of mind for successful therapy is open-mindedness—the willingness to be flexible and adaptable. Often therapy sessions will lead to a number of different possible directions. Be willing to test a hypothesis—safely, of course—and try something different. Cracking the door of change invites you to become a better you.

Some people are naturally verbal, some aren’t. But verbalizing your thoughts to another human being, let alone a trusted therapist, in itself can be healing. The mental process of finding words for often unclear or subtly mixed feelings can sometimes be challenging. Stick with it—it pays off. You will feel the relief when you find the right words, and it helps you focus more clearly on the essence of your issues.

If you are ready to explore these or any other issues with a caring, experienced therapist, please call or email David Bowman to arrange for a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Your mental health is worth it. Call (323) 561-2361.

Photo credit: Jerry Kiesewetter UNSPLASH