There are a few crucial items to figure out when starting therapy ― like finding a therapist who you trust, picking the best treatment modality, and figuring out a way to fit a session into your schedule.
When it comes to the latter, the time you choose may be more influential than you think. Is it a bad idea to do it during your lunch break? Should you try to have your session at the start of the week? Is there even such a thing as an ideal therapy schedule?
“The best time of the day to have a therapy session depends on a variety of factors, and it varies based on the individual,” said Kristen Casey, a clinical psychologist and insomnia specialist. “Every person has a different schedule, lifestyle and ways of coping with the emotional hangover from a therapy session.”
In other words, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” answer, and it may take some trial and error to find the time that works for you. With that in mind, here are some factors that you’ll want to consider when it comes to determining the best time of day to schedule your next therapy session.
Think about what you’re going to talk about.
It’s pretty difficult to say with certainty what topics are going to arise during a session, but if you have an idea of the subject matter that you plan on talking about, then that can be helpful in determining what time to schedule your next appointment.
“If you are working on intensive trauma that leaves you drained after each session, it might not be the best to do a session right in the middle of the work day,” said Kristen Gingrich, licensed clinical social worker and certified drug and alcohol counselor. “However, if the only time you can find is in the middle of the day between different tasks, it’s important to make sure that you schedule time to help regulate yourself to make sure that it is not going to impact your day.”
Consider what processing looks like for you.
If you’ve had a therapy session during lunch at work and then had to hop on a meeting in the next hour, then you might have realized that you need more time to process your appointment since your mind is still actively churning thoughts. In those scenarios, you’ll want to try to schedule your therapy session for a time where you’ll have some time afterward to recollect yourself.
“Try to schedule a bit of a buffer before and after to make the most of your session and give yourself space to process what you’ve just worked on,” said Dr. Nina Vasan, the chief medical officer at Real, a mental health platform. “Otherwise it can feel jarring to jump back into work or daily life.”
It can be helpful to develop a post-therapy ritual if your schedule allows it to come down from heightened emotions. This can be as simple as taking a nap, going on a quick walk, reading your favorite book, mindfully drinking a cup of tea, or anything that helps ground you back into your daily routine.
Think about when you’re most productive.
After a long day at work, the last thing you might want to do is have another hour-long conversation. Even though it’s a voluntary activity, it can still be overwhelming for some people. If that sounds familiar, then the best time for a therapy session may not be at the end of the day.
However, if you’re a morning person, then a session before work may be more beneficial. “For example, maybe you’re distracted in the morning by the commitments you have for your day. In that case, an evening appointment could be better,” Vasan said. “For others, by the evening, energy is zapped which means meeting earlier in the day is more productive.”
Think about it: If you’re paying for a session, you want to make sure it’s at a time where it’s going to have your complete attention so you can focus entirely on your healing journey.
Discuss a good schedule with your therapist.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to schedule a therapy appointment at the time of the day that works “best for you.”
Since many therapists have full case loads, it can be a challenge to cater to everyone’s needs, said Kelly McKenna, a licensed clinical social worker and anxiety therapist. That’s not to say your therapist won’t work with you to find a time that is most beneficial, but due to the nature of the job and the schedule, sometimes it isn’t always possible.
In this instance, for example, you may want to find a therapist who works on a routine weekly schedule (i.e. you see them at the same day and time every week). Not every therapist operates like this, so you may just have to succumb to one of the open slots they have left, but each case is different, so a conversation is definitely necessary to figure out a cadence that works for everyone.