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Ways to Support Yourself Around A Therapy Session




Let's be honest, therapy is hard work. Having a dedicated space for you, where you can share how you feel and what you need, is so important, but it can also be incredibly vulnerable. Opening up to someone and working through struggles is not easy, and it seems that it has become even harder in our fast paced world where we are taught from a young age to 'push through,' 'be tough,' and employ 'mind over matter' whenever necessary.


While I do believe we have come far in the last few years in terms of increasing awareness (and acceptance) of mental health issues, the actual practices that are necessary for healing and working through those challenges are tough - and they often require sufficient time and space. It is certainly not as simple as making a therapy appointment, going in and sharing your heart for an hour, and leaving feeling things have been resolved. If anything, therapy can stir stuff up and, quite frankly, it's designed to. How else can you get to the root of what is bothering you? But, in that stirring up, it is essential that you treat yourself with kindness and compassion, finding ways to give yourself the support you need both in the session (by making sure you are working with therapist that you trust and that feels like a good fit, for example) and surrounding the session. While this will look different for everyone, here are a few ways that you could try and give yourself some care before/after therapy:


  1. Schedule a time buffer before and after your session! Therapy can be stressful in and of itself, but adding onto that the stress of racing to and from the appointment is not helpful! Of course sometimes this can't be helped (life happens), but when you can, try adding a time buffer of at least 15 minutes before and after your session. This can give you time to be more present and calm going into the session, and allow you to really process your experience and reorient back to your day afterwards. A great way to do this is to walk to your sessions if possible, or to park a few blocks away. If you prefer online appointments, try giving yourself a few minutes to just be before and after logging on.

  2. Take some deep breaths Even when you feel safe and comfortable in your sessions, therapy can bring up a lot. If you struggle with anxiety, or are working through trauma, this can be even more true. As a result, turning to a grounding tool to help bring you back to the present moment and calm your nervous system can be very helpful. I recommend just taking a few deep belly breaths or pausing to really take in your surroundings (ex. 54321 technique) as this is accessible to you whether you are sitting on your couch at home or walking out of your session and into a crowded office building. Being mindful of the fact that therapy can sometimes feel destabilizing is important, along with using practices that will help you return to a calmer, more grounded state. * If you notice that you continually feel anxious (or even disassociated) post therapy, this is really important to bring up to your therapist. They may even be able to add grounding practices into your sessions to help with this!

  3. Move your body Physical activity can be incredibly helpful for coping with any anxiety or challenging feelings that your session may have brought up, and it is a way for you to move that energy through you. Exercise is also a powerful practice for boosting mental health in general, and is something I recommend to my clients, especially for those working through anxiety and depression. However, this doesn't need to look like anything extreme. Simply taking a gentle walk at the end of the day can be a helpful way to support yourself and give you time to reflect on and integrate what came up in the session. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, disordered eating, or a challenging relationship with exercise, please be mindful of this suggestion. This may not be helpful for you at all, and actually may serve to disconnect you from yourself and the work you have done in therapy. There are many other, likely more supportive, ways to take care of yourself after a session and exercise does not need to be one of them. Please do what is best for you.

  4. Get into nature Getting into nature is a fantastic way to ground after a therapy session. This could look like taking a walk in your neighborhood, going to a park, taking a few moments to sit in the sunshine, or even going for a swim. Nature is an incredible way to regulate your nervous system, and it offers a perfect chance to connect with yourself and reflect on how you feel/what came up in the session.

  5. Process your thoughts and feelings in a journal Journaling is a practice I recommend to all my clients, as it is a place where you can express your thoughts and feelings freely without having to censor yourself or worry what other people will think. After a therapy session, this can be helpful in working through whatever came up, allow you to make a note of what you would like to talk about next time, and let you more generally process your experience. If you do not enjoy journaling (or this feels daunting to you), another powerful way to express yourself and process emotions is through art. This could be simply drawing or doodling, coloring, painting, or keeping a more dedicated sketchbook and art journal. Whatever works best for you.

  6. Get lots of rest While it is easy to think that therapy is 'just talking,' in reality you are doing a lot of hard work. Accessing old memories, challenging beliefs and thoughts you may hold, processing emotions, learning new ways of being in the world... that all requires a lot of energy! As a result, it is not uncommon to feel exhausted post-therapy, or to feel like you want to be alone. Listen to what your body is asking of you and try your best to meet its needs. Rest after therapeutic work is so key! Maybe this looks like taking a nap or going to bed extra early that night, or maybe it looks like staying home that evening and watching a movie - whatever it is for you, take care of yourself. Even when you think you are 'just talking,' big changes are taking place.

  7. Set boundaries around how much you share with others When your loved ones know you are struggling with something, it is only natural that they would be concerned (or invested) and ask questions about the process. Often clients tell me that they don't know how much they should or even want to share with others, and that a lot of what comes up in sessions they prefer to keep to themselves. This is totally okay! Even if a family member is paying for your therapy, know that the sessions and the work you are doing are yours, and that you have every right to set boundaries around how much (or with whom) you share. I recommend taking some time to consider these boundaries and limits ahead of time, so that you already know who the people are that you feel safe sharing information about your sessions with, and how much you want to share. It can also be a lot easier to have a bit of a prepared answer when/if people ask, so that you are not thrown off and end up saying more than you feel comfortable with. Talking with your therapist about this can also be a great support in figuring out what those boundaries are for you specifically.

 

However you decide to process your experience post-therapy, I hope you choose to take some intentional time and take care of yourself. Therapy is hard work, and allowing time to integrate and be with whatever came up is important. I hope these ideas give you a place to start in considering ways you may want to better support yourself around sessions and therapeutic work in general.

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