Have you ever wondered if therapy is actually working for you? It can be difficult to know for sure, especially when you’re in the midst of working through some tough issues. However, it’s important to know whether therapy is helping you make progress so that you can make informed decisions about your mental health journey.
In this article, we’ll explore ways to determine if therapy is working for you, evaluate your relationship with your therapist, and keep track of your progress toward your goals.
So, whether you’re currently in therapy or considering starting, here are ways to know if therapy is working for you, as discussed by experts.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher
When someone begins therapy with me, I often get the question, “How long does therapy take, and how will I know if it is working?” Sometimes the person is just curious, but often the question is indicative of their anxiety in starting therapy.
Therapy is a commitment of time and money, is a highly subjective process, and is not easily measured. That’s a lot to feel anxious about! It isn’t as easy as just showing up to the weekly sessions and hoping for change.
As a Gestalt therapist and Iyengar teacher, I work from a relational, “here-and-now” present orientation. I am clear with my clients that therapy is a collaborative process and that we will check in periodically to see how things are going — and we do.
Successful outcomes in therapy really depend upon how invested the client is in the process and how reflective, honest, and vulnerable they are willing to be.
A big part of what makes therapy successful is the strength and openness of the relationship between the therapist and the client. If you choose to start therapy, the following are some important indicators to consider if therapy is helping.
Do you know why you are going to therapy?
The best way to know if therapy is working is to be clear about what you are going to therapy to work on and clarify your goals with your therapist during the initial sessions.
Related: What to Talk About in Therapy (60+ Examples from Therapists)
Is your social anxiety interfering with your ability to enjoy yourself? Do you feel like you are suddenly angry at the people closest to you, and you don’t know why? Have you lost interest in things you used to enjoy and feel like life is a drag?
It is the job of the therapist to help the client articulate the personal goals of therapy. From there, it is vital to check in every few months about how things are going during therapy.
If the client is more aware of where those difficult or disruptive feelings or behaviors came from or if they have made positive changes in their life, things are working.
Is the therapist a good fit?
The strength of the therapeutic relationship is a big predictor of how successful therapy is for the client. How comfortable do you feel with your therapist? Do you feel you can talk openly and honestly with your therapist if they say something that rubs you the wrong way?
Don’t forget that this is a relationship; it takes time to build trust, but you will still have a gut instinct about whether you feel like the therapist is a good fit. I encourage you to pay attention to that instinct.
Are you becoming more self-aware?
As Gestalt therapists, we start by bringing awareness to how someone is living their life, their choices, and how their decisions impact their life.
Rather than asking, “Is therapy working?” I like to ask clients, “What do you feel has changed in your life since we started working together?” We explore how the client made those changes.
I invite a sense of curiosity into clients’ lives so they can be aware of their needs, feelings, and behaviors. From there, we look together at what is working for them and what they want to change.
Are you making changes or moving toward changes in your life?
It is important to remember that therapy is a process. Changes occur over time, and sometimes clients contemplate change for a while before taking action. Change is not linear and may not take place on the timeline that you want it to.
I often tell clients that things may feel worse before they feel better. I liken this to having a messy, overfilled closet. You have to take out each item and evaluate whether you want to keep it. This calls for both awareness as well as decision-making.
When everything is out of the closet, your bedroom will feel like a total mess, but slowly you will make your choices, put things some things back in the closet and some things in the donation pile, and the result will be a neat closet with room for everything.
Are you feeling more in control of your emotions?
The fruits of therapy are subjective and only measurable by the client, who will grow and change on their own time. For example, if a goal is about managing social anxiety, have you become more aware of when you feel anxious and learned how to manage at least some of your anxiety when you go to a party?
Related: How to Get Rid of Social Anxiety?
If a goal is managing your feelings of depression, have you learned, over time, what to do when you feel hopeless and what steps you can take to move through the feelings?
Are you checking in about your initial goals?
It is the joint responsibility of the therapist and the client to reflect upon changes in the client’s life. Often this comes up spontaneously in session, but it is important to have some time to reflect upon how the work is going.
I often ask clients what they feel is different since they started therapy. This can be especially useful as change is slow, and you may not notice how things are shifting in your life until you reflect upon it.
Most important is to remember that therapy isn’t a quick fix. Sometimes therapy lasts months, and sometimes people stay in therapy for years. The process calls on being curious about yourself and being patient with change.
The benefits of therapy are rich and lifelong, so be patient, continuously reflect on your goals, and partner with your therapist to ensure you are making progress toward meeting them.
Megan Ford, MSW, LSW
Therapist, Relief Mental Health
Keep track of your progress by writing in a journal
You don’t have to write much; try recording thoughts, feelings, and events of the day. This can give you a good indication of how you felt when you started therapy versus where you are today. Change can be slow. Small steps lead to big changes in the long run, even though they may be difficult to see at first.
Talk to your therapist
As part of their documentation, therapists make goals for their patients at the beginning of therapy. However, not every therapist will share these exact goals with their patients. A patient’s goal for therapy might be something broad like, “I want to feel better.”
A therapist should be quantifying that goal for the patient whether or not they are aware of it. Ask your therapist, “do you have goals set for me? Am I meeting those goals?“ Even if you do not see rapid change, asking your therapist about this can help you see small changes.
You can also ask your therapist if your diagnosis has changed since beginning therapy. For example, if you started in the “severe” range of a particular disorder, knowing if this has lessened to “moderate” or even “mild” can show you the progress you are making.
You feel a connection with your therapist
Feeling connected to your therapist in a positive way is extremely important to help you progress in therapy. A healthy and comfortable therapist/patient relationship can make therapy fun.
This relationship also helps build the therapeutic alliance that is necessary for progress to happen. You should trust your therapist and know that they have your best interest in mind. You may not always be doing activities in therapy that are pleasurable, but you should enjoy the overall process.
If there is any lack of connection or doubt about your current therapist, this may be a sign that you need to find another clinician. It should be noted that this particular advice may not apply to those with paranoia-based or personality disorders.
Talk to your friends and family
As I mentioned earlier, change can be slow. You may not realize that you are making positive changes. Patients can have a tendency to minimize their progress. Friends and family are watching your progress from the outside and may be able to pick up on things you are not.
Talking with those closest to you could provide the outside perspective you may need in order to recognize how far you’ve come.
You feel better
Sometimes knowing whether or not therapy is working is as simple as that. Do you feel better now than when you started therapy? If the answer is yes, chances are therapy is working for you! Keep up the good work!
What if you still aren’t seeing progress?
If you still feel you are not seeing progress in yourself, there are a few things you can try without quitting therapy:
Ask your therapist if there are other different therapies you can try
Let your therapist know your concerns. They can help develop a plan that will make you both feel more confident in your progress. Not every technique is effective for every issue. There may be a possibility that you would do better using a different method.
There are many different approaches clinicians utilize with their clients, including:
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Creative arts therapies like art, yoga, dance, and equine can also be beneficial.
Talk to your therapist about adding medication
Sometimes medication is needed so that psychotherapy can be more effective.
If you’re already on medication and it doesn’t seem to be working along with therapy, there are innovative treatments like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for depression and OCD and esketamine for treatment-resistant depression (Major Depressive Disorder) and suicidal thoughts.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a referral
If you feel that your therapist is not the right fit or that they are not equipped to help you, you have every right to ask for a change in clinician. You are your own best advocate!
Delia Petrescu, MA, RP
Psychotherapist | Psychometrist | Founder, Get Reconnected Psychotherapy and Counselling Services
Since everyone’s situation is unique, it can be quite challenging to tell if therapy is working. It is also important to remember that therapy is not always a quick fix. Some issues may take longer to work through, and there may be setbacks along the way.
Success in therapy can be challenging to measure as success can mean something different depending on the practitioner and the therapeutic approach used.
For instance, success from a cognitive behavioral perspective concerning anxiety symptoms would look very different from success achieved in couples therapy.
The following questions can guide you in knowing if therapy is moving in the right direction for you.
Set up milestones with your therapist
Are you meeting your goals? It is essential to set up milestones with your therapist to define progress over a certain period of time. After goals have been set, it is also necessary to identify the markers of progress and use them to assess how therapy is going.
However, goals can sometimes change throughout therapy. You might begin therapy to address some anxiety concerns, but as you become more comfortable and share deeper aspects of your life, the goals can switch to other areas.
The goal might then be changed to improving boundaries or developing assertiveness skills.
The progress in therapy may not always be linear or consistent
Are you measuring “progress” at the right time? Sometimes therapy can make you feel worse before it makes you feel better.
Depending on the timing, you might be inclined to rate the progress as not ideal compared to how you would rate it down the road in therapy after the “hard work” is done. Hence, it might not always be evident if therapy is working for you.
It is important to know that progress in therapy may not always be linear or consistent, as there can be times of frustration, stagnation, and even regression.
Measure the progress and change
How are you feeling in between sessions? I make sure to emphasize in sessions, especially at the beginning of therapy, that the real work and progress are not made in the one-hour sessions, we have each week, but in all the hard work and practice they dedicate outside our sessions.
If you find yourself “becoming your own therapist” and being able to adopt the skills and tools learned in sessions, that is an excellent way to measure progress and change.
Your symptoms are improving
One way of determining whether your symptoms are improving is to:
- Take an honest look at how things are for you now compared to when you started therapy.
- Use objective metrics to quantify baseline symptoms and progress. You can also gauge your progress by tracking changes in your daily thinking and functioning.
Progress can come in small, incremental changes along the way. While seeing results immediately is not always possible, even minor improvements can signal that therapy is effective. It is essential to recognize that progress can be unsteady at times and that this is normal and expected.
Look at whether there is a good fit between you and your therapist
Are you able to be open and honest with your therapist? One way to measure whether therapy is working for you is to take a closer look at whether there is a good fit between you and your therapist.
According to research, the therapeutic relationship accounts for 70% of therapy effectiveness. Hence, trusting your therapist and forming an open and honest relationship is essential to the therapeutic process.
To assess whether you and your therapist are a good fit, there are a few key questions you can ask yourself:
- Do you feel comfortable talking with your therapist?
- Can you be honest and open with your therapist?
- Are your conversations productive and meaningful?
- Are you able to process and understand the insights your therapist offers?
Take note of any changes in how you talk to yourself
Are you kinder to yourself? Another way to measure progress in therapy is to take note of any changes in how you talk to yourself.
Do you find yourself speaking in a more forgiving, encouraging, and understanding manner? Have you been able to recognize and respond to your own needs and emotions more compassionately?
Pay attention to any internal dialogue that reflects your increased ability to be kinder and more accepting of yourself.
Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coach | Author, “10 Essential Survivor Secrets to Liberate Yourself from Narcissistic Abuse“
As a narcissistic abuse recovery coach, clients often come to me after traditional therapy has failed them or let them down in one way or another.
Conventional therapy typically isn’t designed to help the patient or client heal and get on with their life post-therapy. Instead, it’s indefinite and designed for the patient to rely on the therapist or therapy if they want consistently positive mental health results in most cases.
Signs that therapy isn’t working
Here are some of the biggest issues I notice that could signal your therapy isn’t working, and you need a different approach to mental health.
The therapist doesn’t understand their client’s situation enough to help them recover from past trauma truly.
The therapist doesn’t help the client build personalized coping skills and strategies to carry with them in the future when new trauma arises. They use a cookie-cutter approach instead of individualizing the client’s or patient’s therapy.
All talk — no action
The patient has seen the same therapist for years, yet the patient/client hasn’t made any real progress. This is often a general outcome of “talk therapy” because, while it’s important to talk things through, it’s also just as crucial to focus on behavior and thought modification.
Steps to take action coupled with follow-through are critical for healing from past trauma and preparing yourself for when new trauma enters your life. Years of talk therapy alone often keeps people stuck, not to mention it requires them to relive the trauma repeatedly.
People today tend to see their therapist as their “best friend” and can’t imagine a life without them in it. Although this is useful to an extent, it doesn’t help you make crucial changes in your thought process or behavior. It isn’t focused on healing and growth. A therapist should be a therapist — not a best friend.
There are bad intentions
Plenty of conventional therapists develop superiority complexes to distance themselves from their patients. Some may become power-hungry or make their patients bear the brunt of their own personal mental health issues. Others may be psychopaths or individuals with sadistic tendencies.
Professions like therapy tend to bring out a lot of people’s worst qualities over an extended time in the field. The therapist could be a manipulator and use their practice to gaslight and belittle their patients. I know several therapists like this, owing to my line of work.
They don’t get you
The client doesn’t feel heard. Instead, the therapist insists on using their own approach and telling their client what’s happening. The therapist talks “at” their patient or client instead of listening and offering to understand.
How this might play out: The patient uses the word “narcissist.” The therapist says they don’t like to use labels and proceeds to use the “it takes two” approach. This is extremely invalidating and further traumatizing.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
I believe several things begin to happen when therapy is “working,” and one of them isn’t that life gets easier per se. Therapy is a complex process that involves a lot of what we call scaffolding. Different elements of change that happen in therapy synthesize to make growth grow at an exponential rate, although sometimes slowly at first.
Achieving self-acceptance and a changing sense of self
Our families of origin often lead us to believe that we are too much, not enough, or even both. We also often believe our emotions are too much for others and even ourselves.
Therapy begins to work when we can notice those echoes of our beliefs that helped us survive our childhood or toxic work environments and realize they are no longer working for us.
We started noticing how these negative beliefs were defense mechanisms that helped us survive relationships with others who could not meet our needs. This part of therapy can take a bit of time. Just noticing when we are in those defenses is a huge sign that therapy is working.
Gaining the ability to find joy and gratitude
So much of healing in counseling is about wiring and firing more and more of the neural connections in the parasympathetic nervous system rather than just in the sympathetic nervous system.
Growing up, we may have been so much in the fight/flight/freeze (which also includes caretaking and people-pleasing) that we are almost hard-wired to stay in that nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is wired to become aware of the negatives in any situation.
We can be in a room full of warm and positive experiences, yet if this is the nervous system we are operating out of, we will hone in on any nuances that indicate a possible lack of safety.
So, when therapy is working, our nervous system can switch back and forth from sympathetic to parasympathetic, and we are able to take in the warm smiles and genuine connections and feel them.
You have the willingness to express emotions with others
Therapy is also working because we can now take in these warm connections that may have always been there. We can also make enough space to share our emotions with these people we can now see are safe. We are born wired for connection, as Brené Brown says.
We are not only wired for connection; we are mammals who co-regulate and have exponentially larger nervous systems as a dyad than all alone. Grief, anger, and even joy can feel so immense in our own bodies that we have to shut them down because they can be so big that they feel overwhelming.
When therapy is working, we can lean into connections with other safe people and ride these amazing waves of emotions to completion. Allowing ourselves to ride waves of emotion to completion leads us to even more of those new positive beliefs about ourselves and those people who are offering connection with us.
It is our past negative experiences with people who saw emotions as unsafe that have led lead us to wall off those connections with defenses and negative beliefs about ourselves and others.
These new experiences allow us to remove those walls as we grow that sympathetic nervous system that can take in and hold the good and the bad.
My own experience of noticing my therapy is working
Despite being a therapist for over a decade and being in my own therapy for almost as long, I have discovered that I even had an inner belief that my sadness and grief were too much for others. In a recent session with my therapist, he told me, as I was riding a wave of grief, that my grief led him to feel closer to me.
I could feel almost a sense of shock, knowing what he said was true and realizing that until he said that, I had carried a belief that I needed to hide my grief from others. As a therapist, I had to offer so much compassion to myself at that moment, who had been encouraging people to share their emotions with me for years. And here we are, back to self-acceptance!
Kadeisha Bonsu, MDiv, MSW, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Expect PLLC
You experience discomfort
Therapy is not a walk in the park for anyone, though you can sometimes experience positive emotions and profound benefits to your overall mood and emotional wellness. Sometimes when we are uncomfortable in therapy, we are scratching the surface of something with more prominent roots.
In that instance, talk openly with your therapist about the discomfort so they can assist you with an approach that is emotionally and mentally safe and trauma-informed.
You are tempted to quit
If you suddenly find yourself thinking, “I don’t need this anymore,” that might be the case, but sometimes it’s also because you are getting closer to something, and you might get frustrated.
Our bodies are designed to protect us. Quitting is one of those defenses that we have to examine and determine what our bodies are trying to tell us.
It could be that you have met your goals and are ready to transition out of therapy. But it could also be that you need to stay put and push through.
You have specific goals you are making progress towards
You should be setting goals for your therapeutic journey collaboratively with your therapist. This helps guide the work. Therapy is likely working if you are making progress toward your goals or even if you are staying connected to those goals and exploring what lies beneath them.
You are opening up about things you’ve never shared
There comes the point in therapy where you start to trust your therapist. You get past the uniqueness of the therapeutic relationship, and you start feeling ready to go deeper because you feel more connected.
You feel safe, validated, and seen
When you feel held in a therapeutic space, you know you are safe. The relationship with your therapist is one of the most critical pieces to the success of therapy.
If you feel it’s not a good fit, don’t be afraid to let them know and ask your provider for help finding a better fit. You might also stay with the provider if they can receive your feedback and make improvements together toward cultivating the experience you are looking for.
Natasha D’Arcangelo, QS, LMHC, NCC, CCTP, CCFP
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Is your therapist a good fit for you?
There have been many studies done that have tried to figure out what makes therapy successful. It turns out that it doesn’t matter if your therapist has a master’s or doctorate degree, how many years they have been in practice, or what kind of training they have received.
Every single study shows that the most significant predictor of whether therapy will be successful is the relationship between you and your therapist. It’s crucial that you take the time before setting up an appointment with someone to do some research.
Check out their website or online profile to see if what they say sounds appealing to you. www.therapyden.com and www.psychologytoday.com are two common search engines. Most therapists have something they specialize in, another important consideration.
For example, I specialize in working with folx with a history of trauma. If someone comes to me and wants to work on their eating disorder, I am not going to be the best fit for them. It is also essential to think about how your therapist identifies.
You might want a therapist that has the same cultural background you do, the same gender, or the same sexual orientation. The American Counseling Association provides this free resource to help you narrow down your search.
Are you working on things outside of the session?
Most therapy sessions are between 45-50 minutes long, and in the beginning, you will usually meet with your therapist once a week. That means you spend much more time outside therapy than you do in therapy. It is vital that what you discuss in your therapy sessions is also worked on in between sessions.
If, for example, you and your therapist talked about using more assertive communication, you should be practicing before your next appointment. If you are working on having fewer panic attacks, you should be using your coping skills to help manage them before your next appointment.
It is okay for you to ask your therapist if there is something you should be working on or practicing before you see them again. Some therapists use worksheets or have your journal in between sessions.
What changes have you noticed within yourself?
As much as we want things to change quickly, therapy is a process. I can’t tell you how many sessions you will need to see a change, but overall, it should feel like you are making changes. The most common change that I see with the folx that I work with is that they understand themselves better.
They have insight into why they behave the way they do in situations or what triggers certain behaviors. It no longer feels like they are victims of circumstances in their lives. You and your therapist should agree at the start of treatment on your goals.
If you are working on increasing your self-confidence, you’ll know therapy is working because you feel more confident. If you are working on resolving past trauma, it should feel less painful when you think about those traumas.
Therapy should feel like a judgment-free place where you can talk about anything you are struggling with. That also means that you should be talking to your therapist if it feels like you aren’t making progress. It’s possible you need a different treatment modality or a different clinician.
These are just some considerations to keep in mind as you answer the question how do I know if therapy is working? You are the expert on yourself and are in the best position to determine if it’s working.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Owner & Director, Suffolk DBT
You’re more in touch with your emotions
One of the main goals of therapy is to help you gain insight into your own emotions and motivations. If you feel like you have a better grasp of why certain things make you feel a certain way, that may indicate that therapy is working for you.
You’re developing healthier behaviors
As part of your therapy, your therapist might recommend trying out different coping mechanisms to manage stress or difficult situations better. If these strategies seem to be helping or if you’ve noticed different behavior patterns emerging, it could mean that the therapy process is going well.
You’re communicating more effectively
Communication can often be easier said than done. However, through therapy, many people learn how to express themselves in healthier ways and understand how to listen better.
If you feel like your conversations with others have become more meaningful and less confrontational, that could be a sign of progress in therapy.
You’re feeling more confident
Therapy can help you accept yourself and give you the skills to overcome any obstacles that come your way. If you notice an increase in self-esteem or if you find yourself taking risks without fear, then it might mean that therapy is helping you get back on track.
Licensed Alcohol & Drug Counselor Supervisor | Mental Health Practitioner, PhaseZero Recovery
It’s tough to know if our weekly therapy sessions are working. It may seem like little, or no progress is made, and therapy becomes like a weekly checklist item that we have to do–kind of like laundry. But, over time, if therapy is working, you will begin to see changes in your life.
Here are some indicators that you can look for:
Rate your mood 1-10 at the same time each day for a week
We all have our days, but overall, how has your mood changed? Rate your mood 1-10 at the same time each day for a week. Take the average of these scores. Then, compare them to what they were a month ago. Notice improvements? Therapy may be working for you.
You eliminate toxic or harmful relationships from your life
When our mental health improves, we behave differently. When our behavior changes, others notice, and the quality of our relationships may change. Also, with improved self-esteem and self-worth that comes from therapy, we may begin to eliminate toxic or harmful relationships from our life.
Often those around us will notice progress before we do. We are “with” ourselves 24/7, and progress in therapy can be gradual and unnoticed. However, loved ones will often see the changes someone is working towards in therapy far sooner than the individual.
Even if the feedback from others may not seem accurate, it is vital to recognize the progress that others see.
You feel better physically
Our brains and bodies are connected on many levels. When mental health improves, people will often feel better physically. This can include sleeping better and paying more attention to diet and exercise, which have compounding effects, and even our gut health is directly linked to our mental health.
Although it may seem awkward at first, discussing progress with your therapist could be very helpful. Ask them how they see your progress and if you’re concerned therapy isn’t helpful, let them know. They may be able to help you get a more accurate view of your progress.
Kate Nichols, LCSW
Psychotherapist, Cycle Breakers Therapy
While there may be breakthroughs in therapy and extensive, obvious changes at times, sometimes the shifts are more subtle and gradual. Taking time to evaluate and check in on what’s working can be useful.
Talk to your therapist about what changes they’re noticing
Many therapists check in periodically to provide this kind of feedback, but if they don’t or if you’re curious, you can ask at any time.
- “What changes have you noticed in me since we started working together?”
- “I’d like to check in on the progress I’m making on my therapy goals.”
This gives them the opportunity to point out changes they might be noticing from their objective position that you may not have noticed.
Re-evaluate or adjust your therapy goals
This also gives you an opportunity to re-evaluate or adjust your therapy goals. Being clear about your goals and intentions can help you to know if therapy is working. In the beginning, you might not know precisely what you’re working on.
Maybe you just want to feel better. As you go, you can identify specific behaviors, feelings, or patterns to work on.
For example, let’s say you’re working on opening up more to the people close to you. Over time, are you noticing that you feel more comfortable opening up? Have you opened up to people in your life since beginning therapy? Would the “old you” have handled similar situations differently or the same as you do now?
Track your moods or behaviors
Another way to know if therapy is working is to track your moods or behaviors. There are lots of apps you can use, or you can go old school and keep a journal or log. This can give you data to help you to observe shifting patterns over time in how you think, feel, and behave.
If you’re not noticing the improvements you were hoping for in therapy, it’s always okay to discuss this with your therapist. It’s your treatment, and it should be working for you.
If it’s not, it’s okay to try to adjust your approach with your therapist or to look for someone who may be a better fit.
Carrie Mead, LCPC
Psychotherapist, Maryland Therapy by Carrie
You’re more aware of internal talk
One way to know that therapy is working is to consider if you are finding yourself more aware of internal talk and your reactions to people, behaviors, or events that would have otherwise triggered big emotions.
If you find yourself observing your thoughts before speaking or reacting, it’s likely that you are learning self-awareness and increased mindfulness in your therapy sessions.
You’re receiving positive feedback from others
Sometimes the best thing that can happen after engaging in psychotherapy is that a friend, a spouse, or a coworker will provide some level of feedback that they see a positive change in your mood, attitude, energy levels, or behaviors.
When someone says to you, “you seem happier these days,” or “in the past, you would have reacted strongly to this situation, but this time you were patient.” You are receiving crucial external feedback about the internal change you are experiencing.
Quieting of the inner chatter
Therapy often addresses our self-talk. We refer to this as the “inner critic.” This is the voice that narratives throughout our day and often judges if we are doing “good” or “bad” at any given moment. When therapy is working, this voice tends to hold less power. It’s less loud and less frequent with its narration, and that gives you inner peace.
Certified Grief Counseling Specialist
Identify if you have learned something insightful about yourself
Something prompted you to reach out for therapy. Ultimately you wanted to learn something about yourself, about a relationship dynamic, tools to cope, and skills for communication/ stress management/ problem-solving.
Revisit the moment you reached out for therapy and identify if you have learned something insightful about yourself or have applied skills to manage better.
Do you generally look forward to therapy? Sometimes therapy is tough, but if you find yourself dreading your sessions, it is likely not working for you with this clinician or at this time.
Note life circumstances that have arisen since you started therapy- do you handle them differently than you would have pre-therapy?
Some clients note things like:
- “I don’t get overwhelmed and cry instantly anymore.”
- “I’ve avoided pursuing people who aren’t emotionally available to me.”
- “I feel much more present with my family.”
- “This thing came up that in the past would have thrown me off kilter for weeks, but I just sort of dealt with it this time, and it worked out.”
Take a progress assessment
Does your therapist do a progress assessment? I recently sent a brief assessment to my regular clients, asking them to look at some common symptoms, rate how they’ve changed since working together and identify changes in their responses to life stressors.
It can be a helpful tool to assess how therapy is working (or not) and provides an opportunity to make adjustments to your treatment. You can also talk to your therapist about your progress and ask for their observations.
What should you do if you don’t think your therapy is working?
Discuss with your therapist. Revisit your goals to clarify what you want to get out of your therapy. Your therapist may adjust their approach, offer new tools, implement additional assessments to track your goals, and so on.
If therapy continues to yield little-to-no benefit, consider whether a different therapist may help. You may seek someone who uses a different modality (like an art therapist), someone with a different approach (perhaps a more spiritually-focused counselor), or someone with whom you have better “chemistry.”
Founder and CEO, Impact Recovery Center
You feel more accepting of yourself
Therapy can help you to become more understanding and accepting of yourself. As therapy progresses, you may find that you are less judgmental of yourself and more understanding of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
You may also develop a better understanding of what influences your thoughts and behavior. When you become more self-aware and accepting, you will feel empowered to make positive changes in your life.
You improved interpersonal relationships
Therapy can also help you to build and maintain healthier relationships. As you work through issues related to self-esteem, communication styles, or conflict resolution, you may find that your interpersonal relationships become stronger and more meaningful.
You may also gain a better understanding of how feelings, such as anger or insecurity, can impact your relationships with others.
You have a better understanding of the issues
When you start therapy, you may feel overwhelmed and confused by your thoughts and emotions. As therapy progresses, you should gain a better understanding of the issues that are impacting your life.
You might discover patterns between certain behaviors or feelings and start to recognize how they manifest in different situations. Taking time to understand the underlying causes of your problems can help you develop strategies for dealing with them in the future.
You developed more effective coping strategies
Therapy can help you develop better-coping strategies for dealing with difficult situations and emotions. As your understanding of yourself and your issues deepens, you may be able to identify strategies that work best for you in different scenarios.
You might also start to recognize when particular coping strategies are not helpful or even harmful. Developing more effective coping skills can help you to manage your emotions and lead a happier, healthier life.
Senior Editor, Tandem
For years, I avoided going to therapy. I was one of those people who thought they knew everything and that a therapist would never be able to help me.
I also mistakenly believed that people who accused me of having problems or issues were the ones in the wrong. All of this could not have been farther from the truth.
Now that I go to therapy, I know how beneficial it can be. Below are some ways to know that therapy is working.
The black cloud has been lifted
Before, no matter what you were doing, everything seemed to be lined with a black cloud. You would hear other people talk about great things happening to them, but you never seemed to feel this way. Now that you go to therapy, you can see things more positively.
Your relationships have changed for the better
You might have conflicts with your coworkers or frequent spats with your spouse. Regardless of who the relationships are with, these can change for the better once you start going to therapy.
Due to your therapy, you are probably a better listener, you might understand other perspectives better, or you may have learned how to be patient.
You are more in tune with your emotions
Not only are you more self-aware, which has enabled you to be more in tune with your emotions, but the situation goes deeper than that. Now you not only understand your emotions, but you have more control over them.
You realize that many times things aren’t as bad as you had thought. As Sigrid & Bring Me the Horizon sing, you know, “It’s just a bad day, not a bad life.”
You’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff
Richard Carlson’s #1 best-selling book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and It’s All Small Stuff, played an instrumental role in American culture. With it, people learned that they shouldn’t nitpick everything.
When your therapy is working, you can now do the same. You don’t beat yourself up anymore, or at least you do it less often. Many things will start happening to let you know that your therapy is working. But what if you aren’t going to therapy? It’s never too late to start.
Based on personal experience, the first step is the most challenging part — reaching out to a therapist and making an appointment. Once you get to the appointment, things should be easier and better from that point out.
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