How to get the most out of therapy

Tim Ferriss - Tribe of Mentors
Tim Ferriss – Tribe of Mentors

I was reading “Tribe of Mentors” written by #1 New York Times best-selling author Timothy Ferriss and I wanted to share life advice on how to get the most out of therapy from one of the best in the world. This book is a collection of the worlds most infamous mentors who give their advice when all odds seem stacked against us. This book helps the reader navigate life through short, action-packed profiles of over 100 eclectic experts around the world share their secrets for success, happiness, meaning and more.

Debbie Millman, “One of the most influential designers working today” by Graphic Design USA, has an extensive list of accomplishments including being one of only five women to hold a position as President of Emeritus of AIGA and cofounding the world’s first master’s program in branding the School of Visual Arts in New York City; which received international acclaim. The reason I base this article about her is because prior to her success, she made an investment in psychotherapy. She was in her early 30’s and even though the bills practically killed her, she needed to deeply understand all the destructive things she was doing in order to live a remarkable life. Millman created a list that I wanted to share with my readers as she makes excellent points that may be helpful to you as an individual debating counseling either for yourself or for someone you care about. Her important points to consider are:

  • Once a week therapy does not work well. Twice or more gives you continuity and an opportunity to germinate in a way that once a week doesn’t. Also, once a week almost feels like “catch-up.” — Every individual is unique regarding presenting problems, personal goals, motivation and desire for change. I whole-heartly agree that twice a week therapy will produce optimal results vs every week or every other week. I counsel all different ages and I have found that the more consistent the therapy, the less time it takes to implement change. It also holds the individual accountable with less time in-between sessions for excuses or forgetfulness. Not all clients need to come two or three times a week, in fact, that might be too often. As I mentioned before, each individual is unique and recommended frequency varies client to client.


  •  Therapy takes time. It takes dedication, stamina, resilience, persistence and courage. It’s not a quick fix, but it saved my life. — I almost always get asked by clients or parents how long it will take until they see results. Mental health counseling is not a quick fix and change is based solely on the client. As a therapist, I am here to help, guide, listen and teach. Therapy consists of two things: setting goals and changing in order to achieve those goals. Some individuals are motivated and some need guidance to find the motivation within them. I’ve had clients that only needed one session, those that “graduated” within six months, and those who need consistent counseling due to severe mental illness, trauma, substance abuse or any issue that needs more time to process.  I also have clients who accomplish their original goals and continue therapy to work on new challenges that present themselves in their every day lives. Some clients experience major change in their life such as grief, divorce, abuse, puberty, illness, or loss of job and it is very difficult to say when an individual will be fully adjusted to this change in lifestyle, environment, schedule or structure. It is important to lower your expectations as to what change should be and how long it should take. Unrealistic expectations can lead to depression, anxiety, low self esteem and higher stress levels. This is especially important if you are not the client, but maybe a parent, teacher, or employer. Change can be measurable, however time is solely based on the dedication, stamina, resilience, persistence and courage to change. Age can also play a major factor. Change is very different depending on cognitive abilities, developmental stage and age.


  • Debbie Millman
    Debbie Millman

    Tell your therapist everything. If you edit who you are or pretend to be something you are not, or project who or how you want to be seen, it will last much longer. Just be yourself. If you are afraid your therapist will judge you, tell them. All these things are important to talk about. — It is really hard to be 100% honest with someone.. anyone.. even a complete stranger. I mean, if you think about it, most of us that come to counseling are already confused and most likely don’t even know what the truth is and that’s why they seek these services. We also seem to lie on a consistent basis. Think about a time that someone asked you, “How are you doing?” and you replied, “fine” or “okay.” Whenever I ask a client that question and I receive that response, I already know they are lying. Not that it is intentional, it’s habit. I know that you are not fine or okay. The good thing is that I’m a trained mental health therapist that knows how to help you communicate what is wrong, how you are feeling and explore ways to help you. I know that unconsciously you will lie to me because it is in our human nature. Our brains are wired to say the easiest thing first, whatever will help us avoid uncomfortable feelings. It’s important to learn how to be honest, not only with your therapist, but with yourself. Once you are able to identify the problem, it will be easier to explore options for change.


  • There is no shame in feeling shame. Almost everyone does, and therapy will help you understand it. There is nothing like understanding your motivations and insecurities to help you integrate those feelings into your psyche in the most healthy and authentic way. — Have empathy for yourself and remember, you’re only human. We all experience feelings of shame and insecurity.


  • Yes, it will be expensive, but what is more valuable than better understanding who you are, breaking intrinsic bad habits, getting over much of your crap (or at least understanding why you do it in the first place), and generally living a happier, more contented, more peaceful life? — I would recommend that if you are going to make this investment, choose wisely. Ask professionals for referrals, check online reviews (if they have them) and make a decision that you are comfortable with. Remember though, what works for others, may not work for you. Trust your gut. Give therapy some time before you expect huge results. Remember that the most important part of counseling is building a positive rapport and that in itself takes some time. If after two or three months you get the feeling that therapy isn’t productive or that you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, let them know. Your therapist will not take this personally and will help you find someone that better suits your needs.

In addition to Millman’s excellent points, I would like to discuss briefly the financial aspect of getting the most out of therapy. Choose a therapist with the most economical approach possible: If you prefer to use your insurance, research counseling providers that are in-network. The fact of the matter is that insurance companies often do not accept new providers into their network and when they do accept new providers, they do not carefully select therapists, counselors and psychologists based on expertise but instead consider location and quite commonly select clinicians that are the most economical choice for them. Read more about the benefits of private pay counseling and insurance coverage, This article is excellent in describing the difference and understanding your rights regarding confidentiality, billing and diagnosis when dealing with insurance.