My Therapist is Great But Is The Therapy Actually Working?
Last week we drew lines in the sand to help you evaluate whether or not your therapist is a good fit for you. But the question still stands. If you found a therapist that is a good fit, does it automatically mean that you will get better? And how can you tell if you are or if you aren’t?
These are not simple questions since success in therapy looks very different case by case for many reasons. Some of which include:
Everyone has a unique definition of success.
We seek therapy for different reasons and we want different things from therapy.
There are many different types of therapies, and each modality can have its own objective. For example, Insight-therapy is about helping you gain deeper understanding of your emotions vs EMDR therapy is about dealing with past trauma.
Goals can change over time, thus altering what success looks like.
Therapy is a dynamic process so the results are not always linear or “in your face.”
The problem could actually be an underlying physical issue, instead of a mental or emotional one, and the identification of this could be what defines success in therapy.
But there are ways to break down these question into palatable pieces. And I’ll do that for you - so sit back, relax, and see which option, or options, speaks most to you.
Regardless of how you track success, the place to start is by making sure that you and your therapist are on the same page about what success looks like.
Let’s say you found a therapist that is a good fit for you - they hear you, understand you, make you feel safe and respected. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will automatically get better. After finding such a therapist, it’s important to see if their idea of success is similar to yours and if the type of therapies they provide interest you.
So talk to them, ask them how they define success, how they track success, what their goals are for your therapy, what type of therapies they provide, and which they think will best suit you and your needs. Fit is important. Just because one type of therapy (or therapist) doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean another won’t.
Now, how to tell if the therapy is working or not. Below are a few options.
Option 1: Track Your Symptoms
A great way to see progress is by tracking your symptoms. So what are some of the symptoms that you came in with? Panic attacks? Nausea from anxiety? Brain feels like it’s on fire? Compulsive behavior? Can’t get out of bed? Have been pulling out your hair? Can’t leave the house?
Whatever your symptoms, you can track them daily to see if they are generally decreasing or increasing. It’s important to remember that some days will be worse than others. There will be setbacks. What you are looking for is a trend. Is the overall trend showing improvement or not?
For depression, you can use formal tracking methods called the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). If you are dealing with something other than depression, ask your therapist if there are formal tracking methods available for your needs.
Option 2: Track Your Ability To Cope
If your therapist is recovery-oriented, then that means they are working to get you to a place where you are able to function well without their constant help. You can track or reflect on whether or not, over time, you feel more and more capable of coping with whatever you are facing on your own.
Other questions to ask yourself are - Do the visits to your therapist feel less urgent? Do you feel that you have less and less to say? Do you feel that you don’t need to be seen as regularly? These could be signs that you are making progress.
Option 3: Keep a Diary of “Wins”
If the reason you came into therapy is vague - like wanting to gain deeper insight into your emotions or better understand what is happening to you or to think more before you react or gain courage to switch careers - you can keep a diary of “wins.”
Write down whenever you were able to implement something that you’ve learned in therapy in your everyday life. For example - unlike before therapy, you were able to identify what is overwhelming you in the moment, or you have more clarity of your situation in this or that way, or you took a breath instead of reacting immediately, or you have reached out to talk to a person who has your dream career. Write down any kind of event or moment that is associated with the reason you can to therapy so you can track to see if these meaningful “wins” are happening more than they did before therapy.
Option 4: Ask Your Therapist
Ask your therapist to share their evaluation of your progress and see how much you agree with them. Discuss with them the areas where you feel they have assessed correctly and where they have not, and adjust the measurement process accordingly. You can set up periodic “check-ins,” where your therapist shares their evaluation of your progress and you provide feedback so you both know where you stand.
Option 5: The Good Ol’ Gut Check
Maybe you are a little like me, and you are realizing that your body knows things much faster than your brain can process. Personally, after a good six months of therapy, I could feel that I was getting emotionally and mentally stronger. The feeling I had was similar to the way I feel when I’m getting over the flu. I can tell when the achiness, fever, and weakness starts to subside. So as with my mental health, I could tell I was feeling more clear, more stable, more at ease in my inner landscape.
It's good to listen to our bodies. Combined with more formal approaches above, you can check in with yourself: What is your body telling you, are you generally feeling mentally and emotionally healthier over time?
So, you can use one of these options, two, or all five. While it’s not always straightforward to evaluate progress in therapy, it is possible.
Before we sign off, let’s a take a deep breath in, drop our shoulders, relax our jaw, and slowly exhale. Ah, much better :)
Till next time, dear reader. Wishing you joy, safety and ease.
References: This blog post was inspired by and based on some of the information this article.
Anna is a blog contributor, meditation leader and teacher, and photographer. You can follow her on Instagram @skillsforwellness and find her blogging away at reset brain + body. reset brain + body is a mental wellness practice where traditional talk therapy is elevated through the integration of meditation, nutrition, yoga and mindfulness. Connect with reset brain + body on Instagram & Facebook, check out the class schedule, or contact us to book an appointment.