Carve out some time and space before your session
Give yourself some time to transition from whatever else you are doing before you go into your session with your psychologist.
Even five minutes of space will do. You might find it helpful to put an appointment in your diary as a reminder to carve this space out for yourself.
If you are attending your counselling session in person, consider arriving five minutes early and taking a breather in your car or the clinic waiting area. If your meeting with your psychologist on Zoom, try not to jump from another computer-based task (such as a meeting or emails) directly into your session.
Use the time before your counselling session to slow down, take a few deep breaths and anchor yourself in the present moment. Try these practical tips for anchoring yourself.
As psychologists, we find that when people give themselves a bit of space to pause and reflect before a therapy session, they tend to settle into their sessions quicker. They also tend to get more out of the session because they’re more likely to be focused and ready to reflect.
Create time and space for yourself after your session
Creating space after your session is useful because it gives your body and your brain time to process and integrate all of the thoughts and feelings that you explored with your psychologist. Again, even just five minutes is helpful.
When we jump straight back into the rest of our life after therapy, it can almost feel like the session didn’t happen. You might even have trouble recalling what you spoke about, what the key take-aways were or how you felt.
For therapy to be effective, we need to remember it. Carving out space to reflect on your session and to let things settle is essential.
Make notes for yourself after your session
Some people find it helpful to take notes after they see their psychologist. You might even like to have a dedicated therapy notebook, so you can keep all of your reflections in the one place to refer back to later.
Considering making notes about:
- The main points of your session
- Any homework or skills you are going to practice between sessions
- What you found useful about the session
- What was not useful
- Any strong emotions that you felt after the session
- Any questions or reflections you want to bring up at your next session with your psychologist
Have a specific plan for how you will take care of yourself after sessions
After a challenging counselling session, it’s normally to feel heavy, upset or drained. Even if your session wasn’t particularly tough, therapy is hard work, so you might find yourself feeling a little tired afterwards.
During a counselling session, your mind and your body are working hard to process important information. Deciding ahead of time what you’ll do to take care of yourself after a challenging therapy session is important, because when we feel overwhelmed it can sometimes be tricky to remember what helps us to feel better. Learn more about ways to look after yourself.
Track your symptoms
If you and your psychologist are working on reducing particular symptoms, you might find it useful to track your symptoms each day.
Tracking can be as simple as rating your symptoms out of 10 (0 = no symptoms and 10 = severe symptoms) each day and making note of any significant things that happened in your day.
Here’s an example of symptom tracking for one day:
Anxiety symptoms 7/10
Depression symptoms 5/10
Significant things that happened today: I had a challenging meeting at work, and the kids didn’t sleep well last night, so neither did I.
Here are some reasons why tracking your symptoms is useful:
- It’s a simple way of checking in with yourself to see how you are doing
- Tracking how you are feeling is a form of self-care, which is an important part of looking after your mental health
- You and your psychologist can start to understand your symptoms better by picking up on potential triggers and patterns that increase or decrease your symptoms
- You can take your tracking along to your counselling sessions and use this as a starting point for discussion with your psychologist
Practise the skills you’re learning about
If you and your psychologist are working on skills together, practising these in between sessions is the best way to boost their effectiveness. After all, your therapy session is just one hour amongst the many hours in your week or fortnight. To master these skills you need to weave them into the rest of your life outside of therapy.
Reflect on what you’d like to cover before your session
To get the most out of your session with your psychologist you might find it beneficial to spend some time reflecting on what you’d like to explore together.
This suggestion isn’t for everyone, and it depends a bit on the way you and your psychologist are working together. Some people find it more natural to just see what comes up for them as the session unfolds.
Keep a journal
Many of our clients find journalling is a useful addition to seeing their psychologist. Journalling is a way to check-in with yourself each day, that’s different to just reflecting in their head. There’s something freeing about getting thoughts and feelings out of your mind and onto the page. Some clients find it helps them to pick up on important patterns, like noticing their mood becoming flat or noticing red flags that their stress levels are rising. It also helps to figure out what might be triggering certain feelings and thoughts, such as worry spirals, decreased motivation and of course positive changes, like feeling more energised.
Journalling is a simple and effective way to keep the feeling of therapy alive between sessions. If you’re interested in giving it a try, learn more about how to journal for mental health.