This is Dr. Chad Ebesutani, a US-licensed Psychologist and the Clinical Director from the Seoul Counseling Center in Korea. I have been providing counseling and therapy to English-speaking expats and foreigners in Korea for the past several years. Below are among the most important things I have realized that you can do to get the most out of therapy, whether it be with us at the Seoul Counseling Center, or anywhere you seek services in Korea or abroad to improve your mental health.
1. Try to be as honest as possible and don’t hide anything.
Therapists have a professional duty to keep everything you say confidential. This is one of the few relationships in your life where you can say almost anything and the person listening will seek to truly understand you without judgment. The only limitations to confidentiality is if you tell your therapist that you are planning to harm yourself or others. Speaking as much of the truth as possible will help you get the most out of therapy. The process of speaking the truth to someone who cares about you has an unexplainable way of empowering you and helping you find the best path forward. It is a process that has been working for literally millions of other people. Don’t hold yourself back by not telling the truth. Practice speaking the truth with your therapist…as honestly and clearly as you can.
2. Be willing to feel a little uncomfortable (and know that it’s a sign of building your strength).
Just like with exercising and going to the gym, exposing ourselves to appropriately challenging tasks makes us stronger. Therapy works like that too. Your therapist will help you face challenging, yet meaningful topics and parts of your life in a safe, gradual, and caring way, to help you build your mental health and resilience. Learning to see the world (and yourself in it) in new ways may be a little uncomfortable at times—but just like with exercising, if you go at the right pace, it’ll be what you need to grow and will often even feel good!
3. Stick to a regular meeting schedule (at least at first).
It is easy to not prioritize important things in our lives, such as postponing important meetings and activities. Some of the most important things we tend to put off indefinitely. Therapy is no exception. Whether it’s weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, try to stick to a regular meeting schedule with your therapist, at least in the beginning. Your mind will try to convince you that there are more important things to do instead; but if you find yourself reaching out to a therapist, that is likely a sign that you would benefit from a regular schedule of mental health counseling.
4. Take risks by asserting your preferences, needs, and wants.
The therapy room is one of the safest places to take interpersonal risks. Practice being more assertive than you may be comfortable being to express your preferences, wants, and needs in therapy. Ask to change the temperature in the room. Ask to dim the lights if they are too bright. Ask to change topics. Ask your therapist to listen more, or perhaps to offer you more direct advice. As therapists, we are constantly trying to gauge what you need and want. But we also need your help. Take a risk to assert to us what you want and what you are looking for. You may be pleasantly surprised by how much that helps to improve your experience in therapy with your therapist.
5. Invite your therapist to help you to stop making excuses to improve your life.
In over a decade of working as a Psychologist, I have observed that making excuses in one’s life is among the most common, problematic things that we do to ourselves that either seriously hurts ours lives, or at least gets in the way of making our lives better. Learning to identify when, where, and why we are making excuses can be one of the most meaningful and powerful things people can get from therapy. I therefore recommend you to invite your therapist to point out your excuses—gently, of course—such as while talking in therapy together. Though it may sting at first, such feedback is invaluable and eye-opening. You will see your life in new ways, including the ways you may be unhealthily justifying your decisions and actions, leading to outcomes you don’t want. You will start to see things more clearly, including the additional opportunities waiting for you to take them on in a more honest manner to improve your circumstances. We are on your side—so invite us to help you.
6. Don’t cancel your session just because you think you have nothing to say.
You do not need to know what you want or need to talk about in order to go to your therapy session. Therapists are trained to ask the right questions to cultivate conversation, meaningful dialog, and contemplatives ponderings in relevant areas. As a Psychologist myself with over 10 years of counseling experience, I have come to realize that there is no end to the conversations I can have with clients about continuing to improve their lives, take on new challenges, explore the unknown, make new connections, and find new self realizations about themselves. Practice letting go in therapy and practice trusting in the therapy process that the truth within you will be discovered together with you and your therapist.
7. Tell your therapist if you feel that you are not improving.
Some of the most important feedback as a therapist is to hear that your client is not improving or not getting what he/she wants. That starts a genuine conversation about what you want to achieve in therapy, the obstacles in the way, and how your therapist can better meet your needs. It takes courage to give honest feedback to someone, and it is easy to have doubts about whether the other person will be responsive to your feedback. Therapists are trained to understand the critical importance of being responsive to your feedback, and we want nothing more than to meet your needs in a therapeutic context. Providing direct feedback about this can often be the impetus for the change you are looking for.
8. Be yourself.
We, as Psychologists, are beginning to discover that there is nothing more important than the individual learning to cultivate our inner voice, inner truth, and learning how to articulate our voice as clearly as possible. And that it is through this that we can start to bring about a better world for ourselves and for others. Pretending to be someone else, or a different version of who you really are, will only waste your time and money. There is nothing more important than for you to get further in touch with yourself, who you are, what you value, what you believe in, and where you want to go in your life. You need nothing more than to be yourself. Some days, if you just need to take a few moments to sit in silence with your therapist, you can do that. Reflect on who you are, and practice being just you and no one else. We tend to lose who we are amidst the frantic pulls and demands in life. When we lose ourselves, we usually look back later in life and realize that we have become lost and led astray. Use therapy to get back in touch with who you really are. You may discover things that pleasantly and truly surprise you.
9. Talk to your therapist about wanting to stop therapy…and share in a final goodbye.
It is very common for clients to “ghost” their therapist—i.e., to suddenly stop coming to therapy and ‘disappearing’ without any indication or forewarning. In some ways, this is very normal. We do this to our dentists, optometrist, chiropractor, and so on. Further, stopping therapy any time is indeed well within the rights of the client, and no explanation is needed. That said, there’s something that is different about the relationship with one’s therapist, probably given the degree of personal, private, and honest conversations shared with your therapist for the betterment of your future. Given this unique client-therapist relationship, I strongly believe that you, as the client, can get the most out of therapy by using therapy to practice having a final goodbye—to practice reflecting on the past together, including lessons learned; and reflecting on and planning for the future for what may lie ahead; to also express appreciation to each other; to be present with someone who you may never see again. I believe we will often find ourselves in situations like this—saying goodbye to close people in our lives. I’d therefore recommend you to use therapy to engage in this type of final farewell in a meaningful, heartfelt way. Don’t miss the chance to say a final goodbye, honoring the time well spent together.
10. Don’t underestimate your progress, and never give up.
Over the past 10+ years doing therapy with clients, I noticed that people tend to underestimate their progress and positive gains in therapy; clients often get discouraged and feel that they aren’t improving, when in fact, they are! I therefore began to track their progress visually for them to show my clients that they are doing better than they think! Improvement is often a slow and gradual process, just like exercising at the gym. There will be ups-and-downs, as well as periods of decline. Let those times come, but get back on track as soon as you are ready. Realize that progress is gradual, set your aims high, acknowledge your successes, and never give up.
I wish you luck as you get the most out of therapy!