By Karmen Thulin, PsyD

I believe fully understanding my clients is foundational to doing any good therapeutic work. However, I subscribe to the idea that just understanding can’t be the only thing that happens in therapy. As a therapist, I often see clients who say they don’t want to “just talk” and it turns out I agree with them. Talking isn’t always enough without any real action to back it up. With that being said, here are some reasons sessions should serve as starting points for conversation leading to larger, actionable ripple-effects outside of the one-hour session.

  1. Return on investment. While one hour is not a huge time commitment on its face, it does take a lot of effort to find an hour, drive to and from, and show up cognitively and emotionally to therapy sessions. On top of that you are making a financial investment in yourself. Each session increases in value when you have some way of bringing insights, skills, and awareness from sessions into your everyday life. Applying what you learn from therapy outside of session is often a very effective way to reap the rewards that come from healthy change.
  1. Feedback for sessions. Often, experiential learning holds much more power than insight alone. This means it is important to not just contemplate, but to actually test-drive changes outside of session. Some of the most valuable and forward-moving insights are based on what doesn’t work, and then examining this in a supportive environment. By looking at how things outside of session miss the mark, you can work out the kinks as you go, without the fear of judgment. There are usually layers to insights and behavioral change and reflecting on both successes and setbacks is one of the best ways your therapist can get to the change you desire.
  1. Identifying “spontaneous” change. Sometimes changes occur in our lives that we didn’t plan for or anticipate. Collaborative Therapeutic AssessmentSome of this change might be positive in a therapeutic sense and using therapy sessions as a space to examine this “spontaneous” change can be a fabulous source of information. We might learn something new about ourselves or our abilities. Reflecting on these developments in an intentional way can help add detail and clarity to the big insights you have during therapy sessions. 
  1. Self-Reliance. Utilizing therapy is one way to have a supportive individual assist you when you feel alone in the change you are embarking on. That being said, the goal is not to foster dependence on therapy. Rather, working independently outside of sessions begins that much-needed transition toward more confidence, effectiveness, and empowerment, potentially reducing your need for therapy. It is wonderful when you begin to realize you’re doing really well because of the impact of therapy and yet, maybe don’t need regular therapy anymore.  Individual Therapy
  1. Purposefully creating change. This one is probably most obvious, but it is so important. You are in therapy for some reason, and it is most likely not so you can be good at merely attending therapy. What happens in session should translate to how you go about life – whether that’s what you do, how you think of yourself, how you relate to others, or how you experience emotions. By applying what happens in session to your life, we can make sure treatment is headed in a fruitful and meaningful direction.  

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