There are ways to get clarity around the therapeutic process to optimize the payoff you are looking for. It helps to begin by working with your therapist to get crystal clear about your goals and how therapy can help you meet them. It is also helpful to identify early on what kind of tradeoffs are necessary for a better future life.

In this article I will walk you through additional considerations about the therapy process that can assist you in leveraging your time, money and effort to realize maximum gains. Here are some things to think about when your efforts at therapy seem to be stalling:

Remind yourself why you are in therapy in the first place.

If you are questioning why you are in therapy, you may be experiencing a shift in balance between the costs of therapy and the perceived benefits. Likely when you started you were looking for immediate relief. Now maybe you aren’t suffering so much and have an improved perspective on your life. Furthermore you might find that therapy isn’t working as fast as you would like it to. Scientific research indicates that some clients are at risk for dropping out of therapy prematurely when they experience a little bit of improvement, thinking they have gotten enough of what they need. Perhaps these are your thoughts as well.

But the truth is you can’t always expect immediate and easy results for lasting change. Meaningful personal change generally takes time and effort. Patience and faith are the key. Counseling is sometimes like peeling an onion where each layer needs to be removed to get to the core of what needs to be addressed. Your therapist’s job is to help you keep progressing towards your goals and update you on your progress so that you don’t get discouraged. 

Be curious about what happens in therapy. Everything is potentially “grist for the mill.”

It is said that what happens in therapy is a microcosm of how we live outside of session. That is, we tend to bring into therapy the patterns playing out in our lives.  In this context, therapy can be seen as an opportunity to discover what patterns are running the show and to try out new ways of relating. A good counselor will help you explore these topics without fear or worry.

If your therapist seems off or out of sync, then notice your response. Is your tendency to withdraw or not say anything? I once had a counselor who spent almost an entire session talking about how many friends she had. Whereas my goal had been to learn how to get my needs met, my response to her self centeredness was to say nothing and simply drop out of therapy. What if instead I had taken a risk and confronted her about my need for better support? That would have been a entirely new behavior for me. I might have learned something valuable in the process.

For example, if you feel resistance about what is going on in session it is likely you can learn something valuable about yourself, about how you are responding to your life. So hang in there. It may take some determination to explore what your resistance is about because the human tendency is to avoid anything uncomfortable. However, as Pema Chodron suggests, the best practice is to turn towards what is difficult, not away from it. You can experience valuable personal growth when you do and uncover your brilliant wisdom in the process. Use your therapist to help you explore what you are experiencing.

Confront your doubts about therapy.

It takes faith to be in therapy, especially when the solution isn’t obvious. It might be helpful to know scientific research indicates that psychotherapy can be at least as effective as getting medical care from a doctor. In both instances the natural tendency to heal is facilitated by the caregiver. With a doctor you might come in to have a wound cleaned out so that it can heal on its own. Similarly, with a therapist you might present your pain, grief or discomfort so that it can be processed and resolved in a natural and organic way.

Critical things to look for in therapy include mutually agreed upon goals, a close working relationship, a sense of safety, and therapist empathy. I might add it is important to feel seen, heard and respected. The absence of any of these elements may lead to therapy stalling. Ideally you would discuss these concerns with your therapist. If you do, you can only grow from the experience of successfully repairing an important relationship in your life— this time repairing your relationship with your therapist. If it doesn’t feel like it’s worth the effort then find another therapist.

Consider your relationship with yourself outside of therapy, too.

It is an uphill battle to improve your life through therapy if you are not already taking care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Many people adopt patterns of self neglect based on attitudes they learned from their parents while growing up. If it is difficult for you to be nice to yourself, you’ll want to notice what attitudes and behaviors are problematic and work to change them.

In general, try being your own best friend as much as you are able. This attitude will help maximize the benefits of therapy. Be loyal to yourself no matter what. Respect your needs and limits. You can do this by paying attention to your body sensations and emotions and respond to the needs these represent. What you feel is always relevant and important. What you experience is always your truth. Listen carefully inside so that all parts of you can weigh in on what is going on in your life. Be sure to engage in activities and relationships that are rejuvenating and nurturing.

Good quality sleep is essential to good mental heath so above all be committed to getting quality sleep. Learn all you can about sleep hygiene and put in place the necessary habits for regular sleep hours. 

If any of these efforts are difficult for you, consult your therapist.

Build habits that support your health, well being and counseling goals.

There is so much written about the power of habit yet I see many people struggle to build the habits they wish to have. I can so very much relate to this! I think sometimes the habits we try to create and break are so charged with the aura of success and failure that we lose sight of how primitive our brains are at establishing and breaking habits. Working with habits is simply a matter of using repetition to align good behaviors with values and goals while understanding the purpose of undesirable behaviors so that they can be replaced. 

A good therapist can help you troubleshoot habits. My recommendation is to start with building one small and easy habit. Then you can experiment with the habit building process and see how the process works and when it does not. To ensure success make sure your new habit aligns with at least one of your values and goals.

There is plenty of information available online. For a quick video tutorial on replacing a bad habit, see Charles Duhigg’s 3 minute video on habits:

Be patient with the therapeutic process. Change is not linear. 

Make sure you are getting what you need out of every therapy session. At the same time, it is helpful to know that not every session has to have a big ah-ha moment. Research on counseling demonstrates that you, the client, have valuable insights about your issue and your input is important to ensure therapeutic success. What works best is when you bring to session your wisdom and strengths while I offer additional perspectives and interventions to help you remove blind spots and work through stuck points.

Sometime, therapy can be like a walk in the park where you and I comment on the flowers and trees. Other times, therapy can be like landing on hard, ordinary ground, on rocky, wild countryside. Once we open up to ourselves, then we land on what-is. This is where we can truly embrace our lives and grow.  The whole point is to live life fully and the way to do this is to embrace not only joy and pleasure but also sadness and pain. Therapy can be a rich process for leaning how to just that.


So there you have it, some of the ways you can jump start your therapeutic process and facilitate personal change:

Be clear why you are in therapy and keep your goals in sight at all times.

Have an open mind about what you are experiencing.

Make sure you have a strong working relationship with your therapist.

Ask questions when the process isn’t what you expect.

Cultivate curiosity even when things feel uncomfortable.

Keep the faith that therapy works but also look for signs when the therapeutic process needs to be strengthened. Self-care is the foundation on which you can make meaningful and lasting therapeutic change. Build healthy habits, however small, that will assist you in your goals. And finally, be patient with yourself and your therapist. Track your progress as best as you can and consider what you could be doing to improve the process. For additional information, visit my website at