Getting the Most Out of Therapy

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Amethyst Recovery offers two forms of therapy. In a day/night program, clients meet with their case load for group therapy on a daily basis. They also generally meet with their therapist for one-on-one sessions once per week.

Upon graduating from day/night treatment and moving into outpatient care, clients will continue to participate in one-on-one sessions on a weekly basis. They will no longer participate in case load, although they will attend lectures and other groups between three and five times each week. While these groups are differentiated from the therapeutic case load attended during day/night treatment, the same basic rules of etiquette apply.

Etiquette is important, but not half as important as willingness. Therapy operates on the same principle as most things in life—your return depends upon your investment. Clients who utilize their time in therapy wisely will benefit much more than those who fail to take things seriously. No amount of treatment can help those who refuse to put forth an effort. Even if our therapists attempt to do ninety percent of the work, it proves ineffective unless the client is willing to put in that last ten percent.

Three basic principles comprise the effort required for effective therapy. These principles are honesty, respect, and communication. Clients who demonstrate willingness to follow these principles will achieve much more in the way of personal development than those who do not. To better help you understand what successful therapy should look like, allow us to address each of these values in turn.

Therapy Requires Transparency

Your therapist can only work as hard as you. This goes back to the issue of willingness. If you show no honest desire to improve, they cannot instill this desire within you. Keep this in mind before approaching your therapist with dishonesty. Do not test them. If you want to spend your sessions talking in a conspicuously fake British accent, they may very well let you get away with it. You will only be working toward your own detriment by presenting a false image to someone whose job is to help you. This is how you get the least out of your time in therapy.

Of course, most people do not lie for fun. Usually, those who struggle with honesty in therapy are trying to avoid disclosing shameful or embarrassing secrets about themselves. Remember, however, that your therapist did not arrive at their position without experience. Do not expect that your past misdeeds are so unique as to elicit harsh judgments of character from someone who works with addicts and alcoholics for a living.

Those who resort to dishonesty due to fear of judgment do themselves a great disservice. Not only do they fail to establish a relationship of trust with their therapist, but they forgo all chance of receiving therapy for the issues that trouble them the most. When you find yourself fearful of discussing a particular issue in therapy, you just might need to discuss that issue more than anything else. By opening up, you allow your therapist to help you. They might try to get this information out of you when they know you’re hiding something, but no one likes to spend all day pulling teeth. Speak honestly from the very start, rather than waiting for someone to pump you for information.

In the end, dishonesty serves no purpose anyway. Not only does it impede your therapy, but it usually fails to fool people as well as you think. Consider the following quote by psychologist James Allen:

“A person cannot travel within and stand still without.”

Best-selling author John Maxwell uses this quote as a caution against stubbornness in his book Attitude 101. He elaborates:

“Soon what is happening within us will affect what is happening without. A hardened attitude is a dreaded disease. It causes a closed mind and a dark future. When our attitude is positive and conducive to growth, the mind expands and the progress begins.”

Stubborn dishonesty takes a similar toll on us. When we lie, people see it written all over our faces. Especially our therapists, who tend to know better than most what dishonesty looks like. They may call us on this, giving us a chance to come clean. If our dishonesty continues, it begins to ossify. We dedicate ourselves to falsehoods, and cease to grow. Our therapy fails because we refuse to put anything into it.

Honesty, on the other hand, allows us to help ourselves. Even the sheer act of telling a therapist our most guarded secrets will often feel liberating beyond belief. And when we share these secrets in group therapy—an act of courage if ever such an act existed—we create a ripple effect. Not only do we help ourselves, but we also help those who have been guarding similar secrets. We set off a domino-like chain of honest disclosure, and people begin sharing things they once felt should never be shared.

Just one expression of honesty can kickstart the healing process. Continued honesty helps ensure long-term success. This holds doubly true when honesty is coupled with respect.

Respect Others (and Yourself)

To benefit from successful therapy, we must extend respect in two directions—to others, and to ourselves. But what precisely does this mean? On one hand, we harbor a basic understanding of respect. We hear the word and associate it with etiquette, active listening, and a general sense that people should receive equal rights and privileges. On the other hand, we can never truly walk in another’s shoes. According to Jean-Paul Sartre in The Transcendence of the Ego:

“A consciousness can conceive of no other consciousness than itself.”

Sartre explains this statement as meaning that we view others externally. Before we can identify with them, we must formulate our own conception of their thoughts and beliefs. This conception, by its very nature, tends to be flawed by misinterpretations—whether known to us or not.

In short, we are incapable of empathy in its purest form because we are incapable of truly understanding the feelings of another. Respect, therefore, does not require empathy. It requires only an honest effort to try and achieve empathy to the best of our ability. In other words, what we usually think of as empathy might be better described simply as an honest attempt at understanding the feelings of others by looking more closely at our own.

This begins with the Golden Rule. Since we can only conceive of our own consciousness, we treat others as we wish them to treat us. When someone speaks in group, we close our mouths and listen. Not only this, but we listen actively. Instead of simply nodding along while silently wondering how long we must wait before our next smoke break, we do our best to hear and comprehend every word. We listen for points on which we might offer feedback, just as we hope others will do for us.

Note that the Golden Rule carries an important presupposition. In order to treat others as we wish to be treated, we must know how we wish to be treated in the first place. Or, in other words, we cannot show equal respect to others without first knowing how to respect ourselves. This boils down to one simple rule—be gentle with yourself. Refrain from negative self-talk. Not only will your negativity prove self-injurious, but it may impact those around you as well. When someone hears you speak ill of your appearance, your intelligence or your character, they may compare themselves to you. And if they view you in a more positive light than they view themselves, they will internalize your shame as their own.

Furthermore, your negativity will make any positive remarks you extend in their direction take on the appearance of dishonesty. No one believes words of optimism from someone they perceive as a pessimist.

Respect for self proves vital in one-on-one therapy as well. We cannot reiterate enough that your therapist can only help you to the extent that you demonstrate willingness to help yourself. Their encouragement will fall on deaf ears unless you believe yourself worthy of encouragement. And if you cannot respect yourself enough to believe that you deserve a better life, you may find that you lack the motivation to follow your therapist’s advice. Even when leaving your therapist’s office on a positive note, you may find yourself soon deflated if you allow negative self-talk to intrude upon your thoughts. For this reason, therapy simply proves ineffective unless the client can develop a strong sense of self-respect.

A final note on respect, both of others and yourself—don’t waste too much time. If you catch yourself going on a tangent that doesn’t benefit your therapy, you might wish to correct course. This isn’t to say that the occasional off-topic anecdote is always bad. On the contrary, it helps build rapport between you, your therapist, and your group members by establishing your sense of personality. Just try not to overdo it. And when you do go on a tangent, keep it centered on your thoughts or experiences. Because your views on the most recent episode of The Walking Dead, while valid in their own right, do not establish the type of rapport necessary to maintain a therapeutic relationship.

Which brings us to an important point: you should exercise caution in how you communicate. Because in therapy, neither honesty nor respect will serve much purpose without clear lines of communication.

Maintain Open Communication

Concerning group therapy, communication requires a balance of talking and listening. You should communicate with honesty and respect, but should also listen up when others do the same. According to Dr. Michael P. Nichols in The Lost Art of Listening, this issue comes back to the Golden Rule:

“The essence of good listening is empathy, which can be achieved only by suspending our preoccupation with ourselves and entering into the experience of the other person. Part intuition and part effort, it’s the stuff of human connection.”

We listen to others when they share in group. The respect we show when attempting to understand another person works greatly toward our own betterment. In trying to relate and express empathy to the best of our ability, we not only validate our group members but also learn more about ourselves. We learn just how deeply we can relate to people who seem quite different on the surface. When we eventually leave treatment, this skill will benefit us as we try to build a strong and sober support network.

Communication benefits us in one-on-one therapy as well. We need to tell our therapist what works for us, as well as what doesn’t. When we tell them what works, we allow them to pursue similar modes of therapy. By contrast, telling them what fails to benefit us as well ensures that we don’t waste time by going down the wrong path. As long as we communicate this respectfully (after giving their modes an honest try), we learn a lot about our own minds and how they work. According to The Lost Art of Listening:

“In the presence of a receptive listener, we are able to clarify what we think and discover what we feel. Thus, in giving an account of our experience to someone who listens, we are better able to listen to ourselves. Our lives are defined in dialogue.”

As the point where honesty and respect coincide, communication forms the backbone of successful therapy, whether an in intimate or group setting. Not only that, but our ability to open up, respect others and communicate clearly will benefit us outside of our therapist’s office as well. Once we graduate treatment, we discover just how much we truly gained from our time spent connecting with our therapist.

What Happens After Treatment?

In day/night treatment, we spend an average of twenty hours per week in case load. This diminishes to a single hour per week in aftercare. Either way, we spend most of our 168 living hours per week outside of therapy. So how do these skills benefit us when we leave treatment altogether?

First, letting our guard down allows us to see others in clearer light. We cannot drop our defenses without first learning to identify them. In doing so, we learn to see these defenses in others much more readily. Nichols addresses this in The Lost Art of Listening:

“When we learn to hear the unspoken feelings beneath someone’s anger or impatience, we discover the power to release the bitterness that keeps people apart. With a little effort, we can hear the hurt behind expressions of hostility, the resentment behind avoidance, and the vulnerability that makes people afraid to speak or truly listen. When we understand the healing power of listening, we can even begin to listen to things that make us uncomfortable.”

In other words, we not only learn to see others more transparently but also learn to gauge our reactions to them. When somebody makes us uncomfortable, we see which of their emotions or defenses causes that discomfort to spark within us. We can then approach them honestly. This allows us to mend confrontations by approaching them from a point of understanding—just as our therapist had to understand our ways of thinking before they could see through to our core issues.

Concerning respect, we must be careful in how we approach our attempts at empathizing with others. The point is not to completely drown them out with stories about how well we relate. In The Lost Art of Listening, Nichols notes how often this happens to us, and how combative this well-intentioned refocusing of the conversation can seem.

“Talking and listening creates a unique relationship in which speaker and listener are constantly switching roles, both jockeying for position, each one’s needs competing with the other’s. If you doubt it, try telling someone about a problem you’re having and see how long it takes before he interrupts to describe a similar experience of his own or to offer advice—advice that may suit him more than it does you.”

Communication centers on connection. We approach others honestly and respectfully, and we try to ensure that both parties receive equal rewards from our exchange. No amount of therapy will allow us to overcome the need for this connection, nor will we ever be able to entirely get rid of the part of us that looks only for what we can gain. We require what Nichols calls “narcissistic equilibrium,” a balance of giving and receiving communication that benefits our sense of self-respect. And according to Nichols, we never quite outgrow this need.

“On the contrary, like any living thing, human beings require nourishment not only to grow up strong but also to maintain their strength and vitality. Listening nourishes our sense of worth.”

So listen to others. Respect their views. When you find that you can relate, say so honestly. Whether inside or outside of therapy, you harbor the potential to help others simply by being yourself without fear of reproach. And every time you let others break through your armor, you take another step toward a long-lasting and meaningful recovery.

For more information on our programs, our therapists or the benefits of our modalities, contact Amethyst today. We look forward to connecting with you.

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