How to know if therapy is working

You’ve been having therapy for a while now. You like your therapist and things are beginning to feel a little lighter… But how do you know if your therapy is actually working?You’ve been having therapy for a while now. You like your therapist and things are beginning to feel a little lighter… But how do you know if your therapy is actually working?

This is a common and valid question. After all, therapy is a significant investment, both financially and emotionally.

Unfortunately, there’s no one clear cut answer. By its very nature, therapy comes with a sense of the unknown. Everyone’s different and there are lots of different approaches to therapy which can work in different ways. Sometimes therapy comes with obvious a-ha moments and sometimes it’s more of a process – a gradual unravelling..

That said, there are some signs you can look out for that will give you an indication that your therapy’s on the right track:

Your symptoms are improving – it might seem obvious but it’s important to make this clear. Ultimately, therapy should be making you feel better. That’s not to say you’ll be walking through the door 10 steps lighter by your third session… But if you’ve been in therapy for 6 months and you’ve made very little progress, this could be an indication that you haven’t yet found the right therapist.

You’re more self-aware – without self-awareness, it’s easy to go around blaming other people. But the right therapy should be helping you explore your own thinking and behaving patterns and how they might be playing a role in where you’re at right now – in a self-compassionate way, of course, rather than a blaming way. A wonderful byproduct of this is that you’ll naturally start to feel more in control of where you’re headed. Instead of feeling pushed around by life, you become an active participant in creating your own destiny.

You take things less personally – the more self-aware you become, the more you’ll be able to extend this awareness to others too. When conflict happens or someone behaves in a challenging way towards you, you’ll begin to see that it says much more about their story than it does yours.

You feel like your therapist “gets” you – this is perhaps the most important one. When the connection with your therapist is right, you’re going to feel truly seen and heard by them. For some people, this may be the first time they’ve had this experience. So if you’re feeling this way about your therapist, it’s a great sign.

You’re kinder to yourself – instead of beating yourself up when things don’t go to plan, you’ll be starting to offer yourself kindness and compassion. After all, it’s in these moments when we need our care and attention the most.

How long does therapy take to work?

The age-old question… And again, there’s no set time frame. How long therapy takes to work will be dependent on your particular issue and the approach to therapy you’re having. With difficulties that have started relatively recently, you may start to experience relief from your symptoms in as little as 6 sessions. However, some issues are more pervasive and ingrained and therefore need more time to unravel. In these cases, you might need to commit to therapy for a longer period of time to see the results (1 – 2 years).

The success of therapy also has a lot to do with you and your own motivation. Therapy isn’t just limited to that 1 hr a week. For real change, you need to be actively practising and applying what you’re learning in your sessions to your everyday life too. It takes grit and determination but it’ll all be worth it when you start the changes that are possible.

I’m not making progress in therapy – what should I do?

Firstly, if you’re asking yourself this question and you’ve only been in therapy for a very short period of time, we recommend sticking with it for a bit longer.

Early on, it can be hard to tell what’s going on behind the scenes. Therapy can be gentle and nuanced and it’s not always obvious where your therapist is headed. Likewise, it can take a while for your therapist to really get to know you – the same as when you meet anyone new. The more your therapist gets to know you – your behaviours, patterns and thoughts – and the more techniques they try out, the more they’ll be able to understand what does and doesn’t work with you. Sometimes it can take a bit of time for you both to understand each other.

That said, there are certain things that should be there from the beginning. Most people experience the biggest shifts when they find a therapist that they genuinely connect with. And naturally, we connect better with some people over others. If you feel like that click just isn’t there, then you may not have found the right therapist yet. But that’s nothing to worry about – many people find the right therapist on the second or third try.

Either way, it’s important to express your doubts. The right therapist wants you to recover, regardless of whether that’s with them or someone else. That’s what they are there for. And letting them know how the experience is going for you is helpful information. Either they can shift direction and change their strategy or they can suggest someone who they feel might be a better fit.

And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, check-in with yourself. Have you been fully open and vulnerable with your therapist yet? If not, you may want to consider whether it’s possible that you’re standing in your own way. Sometimes we might want to avoid the experiences that are most likely to create the biggest shifts as it can feel scary opening up. But usually that’s where the real change happens.