How to Make the Most of Mental Health Treatment
Mental health treatment is an active process, meaning that the more effort you put into your treatment program, the more you will benefit from it. Although mental health practitioners can give you tools and medication to deal with these issues, patients do best when they engage thoroughly with their programs, regularly take time for self-reflection, and review their treatment and feedback with their therapist.
Establish a Clear Therapeutic Relationship
Your mental health treatment practitioner will abide by a certain set of guidelines, and it’s important for you to be clear about those from the start. Depending on your treatment program, there may be rules about confidentiality, contact outside of session and what you should do in case of crisis. Understanding these from the beginning will mean that if your mental health feels particularly shaky at any point, you know what you can do and how to proceed to get yourself back to more solid ground.
It is important to establish a trusting relationship if you’ll be meeting with a therapist or counselor regularly and that starts with each of you knowing where your boundaries lie. Tell them if there are areas you are uncomfortable talking about in the beginning, even if it means passing them a list of taboo topics or trigger-words at your first session.
Your mental health practitioner will suggest the medications or types of therapy that they believe will be of greatest benefit to you. These may be drugs or therapeutic approaches you have never heard of before. You may want to do some research or ask for more information about these approaches before agreeing, but don’t discount something merely because you aren’t familiar with it. There are new, cutting-edge treatments that can be very effective for certain patients.
Even if you have heard of the suggested treatments, but have encountered negative stories floating about on internet forums, remember that people are much more likely to report negative experiences in public than positive ones. Your mental health practitioner has your best interests at heart, so by all means bring up your concerns and have a discussion about them, rather than flat-out refusing treatment.
You will find therapy much more productive and enjoyable if it’s a conversation rather than a series of sessions in which you say little.
Throughout your treatment, don’t stay silent if you have burning questions to ask. You can, of course, ask about your program itself, but sometimes it may be the issues at hand that you want to know more about. Especially in talk therapy, it is common to experience insights and to wonder if you’re beginning to connect the dots. Don’t wonder alone—if you think you may have had an epiphany, share it with your therapist. Ask him or her if what you’re thinking seems to fit and is beneficial to your case.
You will find therapy much more productive and enjoyable if it’s a conversation rather than a series of sessions in which you say little and go home alone wondering if you can ever unlock some much-needed answers. Sessions are valuable times to explore and discover what’s been holding you back and why, as well as a chance to talk to someone trustworthy.
Do Your Homework
Depending on your type of treatment, your therapist may give you some homework, providing you a chance to either reflect on a particular issue, put your thoughts down on paper, or practice some skills you have learned during the session. If this is the case, it is vitally important that you complete the homework, even if you find it emotionally difficult at first. The more you do, the easier it will become. You should find your skill-set becomes stronger and that can help you enter a cycle of positive reinforcement.
For example, one homework task might be to set boundaries with a problematic person. Your therapist should give you specific tools for doing so and allow you ample practice time in-session before doing it in reality. But it is only by setting a boundary in real life that you are really empowering yourself and can feel the benefits of that as well as the positive add-on effects. If a homework task doesn’t go so well, remember to note down what happened, how you responded and what you may have learned from it. Then you can take it back to your mental health worker for feedback on how it could go more smoothly next time.
Offer Regular Feedback
A good psychiatrist or psychotherapist should set out regular review periods to discuss how you are feeling on your medication and whether the therapy you are doing feels right for you.
Since every patient is different and has individual bodies and varying strengths, weaknesses and needs, when you start treatment, your mental health practitioner can only suggest the best program based on the information about you they have available at the time. A good psychiatrist or psychotherapist should set out regular review periods to discuss how you are feeling on your medication and whether the therapy you are doing feels right for you.
But you don’t have to wait for these official reviews to offer feedback. In fact, your treatment providers can steer you in a more appropriate direction more quickly if you frequently give feedback on what’s working well, what exercises or aspects of therapy you enjoy, or think you need more practice with, and how your medication is making you feel.
It can help to keep a daily journal detailing your physical and mental state, so you can track your progress and pinpoint precisely where things may need tweaking. Bear in mind that feeling low sometimes doesn’t necessarily mean you should change what you’re doing. Ups and downs are normal in therapy. Grief and sadness can be part of healing.
Journals are also invaluable for noticing your particular triggers for stress or reactivity, repeated faulty thinking styles and negative behavioral patterns. It may be easier to identify these when you write them out. These make great topics to discuss and work on with your therapist. When you are open and honest about how you are feeling, you really are being proactive about improving all aspects of your mental health and making the most of your treatment time.
Written by Beth Burgess