It takes weeks, sometimes months to see results in therapy, but there are ways to gauge whether you are making progress. The key is looking at both long and short-term goals and improvements. You can vent to a friend and feel better for a day, but only a licensed therapist can help you become happier and healthier for the rest of your life.
Starting with Short-Term Goals
Sometimes It’s OK to Trust Your Gut
When building any relationship with someone, there is chemistry and intuition, feelings of satisfaction when you are lucky enough to click with this new person. Sometimes clients commit to sessions with a great therapist but realize he or she is not the right fit. It’s no one’s fault. Still, therapy won’t work for you if you’re toughing it out with a therapist who is the wrong fit.
Being On Time and Not Cancelling Needlessly
Making the effort to be punctual and not cancel unless absolutely necessary demonstrates clients are committed to working on their issues and living happier lives. Ironically, the issues themselves can get in the way of being on time and keeping appointments.
If you have trouble with this, texting therapy or other forms of online therapy might be the answer. There are no sessions or cancellations. Text when you feel like it and the therapist will chat back. That’s it.
You Are Noticing Symptom Improvement (for those who went to therapy for help dealing with mental illness)
Therapy is for anyone who wants to better cope with problems in life, but it’s also an effective treatment for mental illness. If you feel like symptoms of depression, anxiety or another illness are crushing you, therapy can quickly take the edge off. This is easiest to evaluate if you have psychosomatic symptoms such as sleep deprivation, fatigue or nausea.
If the symptoms are more behavioral such as lack of interest or mood issues, look back on your week and decide whether this has improved. A therapist can help you talk about this.
Then there’s the data-driven approach that takes many forms depending on the therapist or organization providing the therapy. Student health centers that provide free therapy usually offer forms that ask students how they are feeling and progressing. The forms use simple 1-10 or 1-5 scales, so it’s easy for health center administrators and therapists to know who is improving.
Online therapy networks often send out similar questionnaires or surveys asking clients to evaluate their therapist and talk about progress. It is rare for individual therapists to do this.
There are also specific scales such as the Likert scale that measures positive or negative responses to a statement. Talkspace therapist Ken Fields said he encountered a therapist who asked his clients to use the Likert scale to measure the value of their current session and their sense of overall benefit from therapy. The scale helped clients see the progress they were making and assuaged doubts.
Moving Into Long-Term Goals
You’ve Moved Past Venting and Into Changing
Don’t conflate relief with progress. Venting will give you the former but won’t provide lasting change on its own.
Unfortunately, many clients quit therapy after feeling this relief, according to Talkspace therapist Nicole Amesbury. The difficult part is actually where the most progress happens.
“Therapy can feel uncomfortable when starting to confront some of the deeper causes that were initially fueling symptoms,” Amesbury told Talkspace. “This does not mean therapy is not going well.”
You are making extraordinary progress in therapy if you are addressing the roots of your problems and changing negative beliefs or behaviors.
And You’re Learning New Skills
Therapists do more than help with problems. They are like personal trainers for clients’ minds and emotions. If you’re now effectively dealing with situations that used to send you into a spiral of negativity, that’s a great sign of progress. Maybe you do this by practicing a technique you learned in therapy. Think of this as a new soft skill similar to communications or leadership.
And Moving Towards Meeting Your Goals
If you enter therapy knowing exactly what you want to get out of it, make goals with your therapist and gauge whether you are moving towards them. The therapist might suggest this before you do.
“I record progress made towards each goal after every session and when I notice a client is struggling, we refer back to their goals and I ask them to review how much progress they believe they are making,” therapist Stephanie Moir told Talkspace.
If you want therapy to be more directly results-driven so you can more easily know whether it is working, try this approach.
Your Friends and Family Are Noticing This
If your friends and family ask if something is different — and do so in a curious tone rather than a worried one — that is a sign therapy is working for you. Perhaps they noticed an improvement in mood or decrease in negative behaviors and thinking.
Not Worrying About the Money You’re Spending
Therapy can be expensive, but people who acknowledge therapy works for them know it’s worth it. Even if you save money using an online therapy network, the relatively small subscription price will fade to the back of your mind as life becomes better.
And Looking Forward to Chatting with Your Therapist
Therapy can be daunting in the beginning, but clients who know it works and have committed to a long-term engagement will be past these feelings. They look forward to the feeling of relief, progress and insight their chats or sessions will bring.
But Eventually Saying Goodbye
Ending a therapeutic relationship after years of progress is different than saying goodbye after feeling quick benefits from venting during the initial sessions or chats. All good things come to an end, even therapy. If you and your therapist can’t think of anything to talk about because your life, symptoms or coping skills have improved so greatly, consider bidding farewell.
Universal Signs Therapy is Working for You
No matter what issues clients have or type of therapy they use to work on them, at least one of the above will happen when therapy works. If you’re still struggling to make it work, don’t despair. There is a therapist who will fit your needs perfectly. Keep trying!