Focus groups of therapists have found that the first minute of any session is critical. If you don’t grab them early, it doesn’t matter what you say the rest of the time. Your appointment lasts 50 minutes—but, if you’re not careful, it will feel longer to the bored victim of your ramblings.
Don’t Be So Literal
Dilemmas like yours are a dime a dozen, and your therapist needs to be entertained. Tell an interesting tale that represents your regular, meh story. Say you work at an ice-cream shop, and are consumed by anxiety over asking your supervisor for a manageable shift schedule. Don’t tell your therapist that; instead, ask how you can balance your responsibilities as a new parent with your job as a bull-annoyer at bullfights.
Paint a Pretty Picture
Describe the people in your life as more attractive than they are. A good-looking cast begets a good, listening therapist. Vividly detail stunning features, exotic locales, and witty repartee. Consider giving your characters catchphrases. For example: “Now that’s what I call a doughnut, volume cake!” It makes sense in context.
Keep It Moving
Make progress between sessions; stagnation kills. Still, it’s just as important that you never say you’re “doing fine.” “Fine” doesn’t keep butts glued to Eames chairs. Escalate each episode by introducing new, more imposing obstacles. Try ending every session with a cliffhanger: “Moments after I finally learned to stand up to my domineering father, something grabbed my leg!” Your doctor will run to his appointment book, desperate to hear another thrilling installment.
Set the Optimal Difficulty Level
Therapists are thinkers, so give them puzzles to work through. The tasks should be tough enough to keep them engaged for a few minutes, but not so intricate that they give up. Listening to you should be as addictive as playing Super Mario Bros. 3. Otherwise, your therapist will play Super Mario Bros. 3 instead. His NES is right there.
I’m saying this because I want to help you. That is, after all, why you hired me. If you can follow these simple guidelines, I’ll see you next week.
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Jonathan Zeller is a writer, editor and comedian who’s contributed to McSweeney’s, The New York Times, and Teen Vogue.