So you’ve taken the taken the leap and started therapy. You’ve been to a few sessions and everything feels like it’s going well – but you’re beginning to ask yourself, what next?
When we’re new to therapy, it can feel like we’re moving through uncharted territory. And very often we are. Maybe we’re starting to properly touch on our emotions for the first time or we find ourselves sharing things we never had the courage to voice before. Or perhaps we’re starting to understand ourselves better and shed light on repeated patterns and where they stem from. Breakthroughs such as these can come as a huge relief, but is this enough to signal that therapy is working?
The simple fact is, progress takes time. As nice as it would be to wave a magic wand and watch our issues vanish into thin air, if we’re new to therapy, it’s going to take a bit of time to unravel thoughts and behaviours we’ve formed over a lifetime.
Growth is also rarely linear. This means that in one session we might feel like we’re making headway, only to go to the next and feel like we’re back to square one again. Of course, we’re not – but change is a process and sometimes it’s necessary to go back two steps in order to move forward stronger again.
Because of this, it’s difficult to know how much progress you’re making when you first start therapy. That’s why we’d always suggest holding out for at least six sessions to get a proper feel for the kinds of changes it can bring into your life.
If that’s where you’re at, we’ve compiled a few things to look out for that suggest you’re on the right track:
1. You start to feel better
It might seem obvious, but this is one of the most important indicators that therapy is working for you. Results don’t happen overnight, but over the course of your sessions you should gradually start to feel some kind of relief. In fact, most people find that therapy quite quickly takes the edge off their symptoms. If you’re not sure, try keeping a journal and tracking your moods over the course of your sessions. Sometimes improvement happens slowly which can make it harder to notice.
Again, it’s worth noting that some sessions will inevitably bring up difficult emotions that don’t feel so good at the time, but ultimately lead us on the path to better. So don’t be concerned if you find yourself going through peaks and troughs, it’s all part of the process.
2. You feel like your therapist gets you
Therapy has the best chance of working if both you and your therapist are on the same page about what you’re looking to accomplish. Checking-in at various points along the way helps to keep things on track.
There might also be moments when you feel like you’re exploring things that don’t bear any immediate relevance to your present issues. It’s important to have faith in your therapist in these moments as there will usually be a reason for this. Sometimes something we consider to be irrelevant can have more significance than we thought. That’s one of the bonuses of having an objective viewpoint.
3. You don’t dread your sessions (maybe you even look forward to them!)
Opening up to a stranger can feel foreign at first. But with time and as the relationship with your therapist develops, this should start feeling easier. You might even find that you start looking forward to your sessions. After all, it’s a dedicated time each week for you to talk about you, and a space where you can be completely yourself, warts and all.
4. You feel like the wool has been pulled from your eyes
As you start building self-awareness, you might find yourself having a-ha moments as things suddenly start making more sense. If you find yourself noticing emotional or behavioural patterns as and when they happen – or even shortly after – then this is a really good sign that therapy is working. When we become better at noticing something, we have the power to call it out and change it the next time around.
5. You’re doing more of the good stuff
If therapy is working, you should start to feel like a weight has been lifted. This doesn’t mean that all your problems are going to magically disappear, but you should start feeling more hopeful and optimistic. And usually this correlates with wanting to take better care of ourselves. Whether it’s long baths, spending time with friends, eating better or just generally feeling more sparky, you should find that self-care becomes more of a priority as you stop seeking external validation.
6. Maybe things get worse for a bit
This one might seem counter-intuitive, but overhauling negative patterns requires patience. Some people find that they’re making progress only for old patterns to re-emerge throughout the course of therapy. Don’t feel alarmed if you feel like things are stalling or you find your symptoms temporarily getting worse. Think of it like working out. When you exercise, your muscles micro-tear in order to grow stronger. Sometimes we have to revisit ingrained patterns multiple times as we build up the strength to wave them goodbye once and for all. Remind yourself that it will always be worth it in the long-run.
And lastly, if you have any doubts, don’t be afraid to turn the question on your therapist and ask them how they think your therapy is progressing. Remember, therapy is all about you so you should never be scared to take the reigns. Your therapist will always be open to discussing what’s working and what isn’t so you can make sure you’re on track to getting exactly where you need to be.