What is Good Therapy?
Part One of Two
Therapy can seem mysterious or unknown, because the real work happens behind a closed door. By nature, people don’t tend to talk about therapy and there is no public observation by which you can see what you are signing up for before you “buy it.” The good news is that even though there are lots of different types of therapy/therapists that a person can receive services from, there are a few factors that can help you recognize quality services. Here are a few things to look out for so you know you are getting both good and effective therapy:
1. A comfortable relationship that includes trusting your therapist
Comfort with your therapist means that you feel like they “get” you. This is the part that feels like friendship (even though you are not friends outside of the therapy room). What kind of person are you most comfortable with? Are they warm? sarcastic? emotional? a problem solver? Maybe you know you prefer a more directive style or, on the contrary, a gentle style when you are exploring and evaluating an area of your life that needs growth. Does the therapist match your energy level and does he or she engage in what feels like good conversation with you, or do you feel like you carry the conversation all the way through? You should feel like you can be really, painfully, honest about your struggles and inner thoughts. The more open and honest you are, the better progress you can make. This means talking about stuff that sometimes isn’t typically discussed in life outside of a therapy room. That level of honesty is normal (and effective!) in therapy and we therapists actually encourage you to leave your filter off with us. Plus, we promise not to judge you, no matter how weird you think something sounds.
2. Session frequency that allows for momentum
This can mean something different for different people. In our practice we see many people on a weekly basis for a time and then appointments become more spread out so you practice your new skills and tools between sessions. Generally, when someone is not in a crisis and have found their new “groove”, its normal to transition to seeing your therapist every other week, or even on a monthly basis until you mutually decide that you have met your goals. It may sound strange, but we love working ourselves out of our job with you because that means you achieved your goals. Watching people make gains and be successful is the best part of our job!
3. Goal focused treatment
This is an area that we are passionate about at Watermark. In the clinical world we refer to the goals as a treatment plan. A treatment plan is a document that outlines what you are working on with your therapist. It is written by your therapist (ideally as a collaboration with you) early on in your treatment. A treatment plan is a list of identified areas of growth that serves as your “map” for the therapy process. It is a concrete starting point. An example of a treatment plan goal is: “Person X will learn new coping strategies for responding to feelings of anxiety” or “Person X will be gain insight into past failed relationships to assist them in their new relationship.” You get the idea… they are statements about what you are working to change. If you are wondering what you are doing in therapy, ask to see your treatment plan.
I love to ask people in a first session the following question: “Imagine that we are in the future and you are finished with therapy, what are some of the areas in your life that may have changed? The answer to this is where you should be spending your time during therapy. If you feel stuck in therapy, ask about your treatment plan. If you don’t have a treatment plan, ask to create one with your or do therapy with a therapist who utilizes this structure. It’s a best practice and it is important.