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How should I prepare for my therapy session?

by Andres Carrion | July 2022

Therapy is a safe space where people can get what they need, whether that is clarity, insight, relief, or just peace of mind. Because of this, it is important to think about what you might need before and after entering your therapy sessions. 

With the shift to telehealth, many of us have found it easier to attend their therapy sessions with little disruption to their day-to-day life. However, with this change also came many blurred boundaries. It can be really easy to transition from a tense work meeting directly to your therapy session, or to attend your session as you are getting ready to go out. Because of these everyday obstacles, you may find it difficult to pay attention during your therapy sessions or feel like you don’t have enough to talk about. More importantly, you may find yourself leaving your sessions feeling like you haven’t gained anything from it. Below, we will outline tips for preparing and making the most of your therapy sessions. Although we prepared this article for primarily those attending virtual sessions, most of the contents of this article applies to in-person sessions, as well.

One of the most important things to do to prepare for your therapy session is to think of things you want to discuss. When you don’t feel like you have enough to talk about, it can make your session feel very long and draining. Your therapist can sometimes support you in coming up with things to talk about, but if you are finding that your therapist is constantly having to do this, you may not find therapy very helpful for you. Something that you can do to overcome this is to create a “problem list” or a journal of things that occurred throughout the week that are worth bringing up. Then, you can prioritize which items are most important to discuss. If you really feel like you do not know what to talk about, reflect on your goals and think about how much progress you have made towards them. 

Another strategy that can be really helpful for your therapy session is to prepare the environment. This means setting up the place you will take the call to include things that will be comforting to you. This can include lighting candles in fragrances that would be calming to you, keeping a box of tissues nearby, finding a comfortable spot to take the call, and maybe getting a blanket or something that may comfort you. 

In addition to preparing your environment, another very important thing to do is minimize external distractions. This can be difficult to do, but if you can, you should keep pets and even loved ones and children out of the room. Turn off notifications, especially if you are taking the call from your phone. These distractions can disrupt the flow of your session and make it challenging to maintain a difficult conversation. Further, it can be common for some who take therapy from their homes to feel that it is okay to use mind altering substances before or during their session. This includes things like smoking cigarettes, vaping, drinking alcohol, or using another substance. These substances may be helpful to people who are emotionally dysregulated, but that can be very problematic in therapy as they introduce resistance, distractions, and other ways of disrupting the therapeutic progress. 

Finally, it’s important to think about the ways you regroup after a therapy session. It can be very difficult to regroup or recenter yourself after an intense and/or emotional session, especially if you have other tasks to attend to (e.g., another meeting, interaction with family, errands). However, it is important to give yourself some time, even 5 minutes if that’s all you have, to help process any emotions that may have been brought up during your session. When people do not regroup or debrief after a session, they can often feel as though they have “an emotional hangover” or an overwhelming feeling of sadness, anger, or fatigue. Things you can do to regroup post-session can include mindfulness, a walk, a grounding exercise, a meal, or a journal reflection. It can be anything that helps you pack up the emotions so that you are not left feeling raw.

It can feel as though you need to present in a specific way in therapy, but that is not the case. Therapists want you to come as you are to therapy. If you are angry, then bring those emotions to therapy. But, it is important to make the most of your time in therapy, because it is your time.

While our physical offices are located in South Loop and Lakeview neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois for in-person sessions, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more.