capturing the beautiful calamity of healing in therapy

7 signs therapy is working

It is no secret that mental health professionals constantly argue about how to define progress and change. This is why I adamantly believe there are Fifty Shades of Recovery. Successful treatment will always be subjective, and concise results are rarely black-and-white. But with all these mixed responses about how therapy should be, how is a client supposed to know what’s actually working? I won’t pretend to be an expert in this subject, but I’ve done my best to summarize some key checkpoints you can use to assess the quality of your therapy and therapeutic relationship.

Below are the checkpoints I routinely address with myself and with my clients, and I find that doing my best to master these 7 areas with them helps to keep the therapy (and their lives) moving in a positive direction!

  1. You start feeling more inspired AND empowered in your everyday life. You may not necessarily feel better or even happier, but you should be experiencing some glimpses of hope and optimism. After all, most people enter therapy because something feels unmanageable. While your problems cannot and will not dissipate overnight, you should start feeling more uplifted regarding how to address and tackle them.  A good therapist can often see the light at the end of the tunnel and guide you through darkness carrying her own faith and trust. Whether it is inspired to take an initial action or the courage to undergo a risk, you should feel a spark of something provoking you to move forward.
  2. You feel comfortable around your therapist. No, this does not need to happen overnight! It’s normal to be nervous at he beginning, and it’s absolutely okay if you don’t spill out your entire life story within the first session…or even first few months! Trust takes time, which is why I adamantly believe in embracing partial trust. With that said, just like any other relationship, the trust should be moving in a progressive, positive direction, and the office should become a refuge for you to just be yourself. If the awkwardness and discomfort is shrinking, this is a good thing. You should be in a space where you feel accepted and embraced for who you are and what you do.
  3. You look forward to going. Honestly, this is underrated. Therapy is a business service, and the processing can be painful and difficult, but there should be some engagement and desire to keep doing it.  It may be your only time in a week where you have unadulterated time to just be yourself, talk about yourself, and receive feedback about yourself. In a world where we are always needing to listen, you finally get to be listened to! There should be some relief in that.
  4. Your therapist stands as a role model. Let me elaborate. You don’t have to want to be him or her, but I do believe a good therapist should convey some sort of inspiration and mentoring- they should have something you want, even if it’s the confidence and compassion they have towards YOU. Ideally, parts of what they have can motivate you towards working towards what you want.
  5. He or she challenges the way you think or behave. Validation, compassion, and nurturance are the glue to any safe relationship, but without a sense of “pushing to change,” you wouldn’t have entered therapy in the first place. Your therapy is most likely working if you are having a regular amount of “aha” moments in or out of session, if his or her words seep through your mind before you act on something, or you are able to take on a new perspective that never occurred to you before. Therapists aren’t miracle-workers, but they often do know how to reframe situations and angle them in a way you may have never seen positioned before. If you find yourself second-guessing your relationships, habits, communication, and/or ways you handle stress, you are in that sweet spot of increasing self-awareness (which is what therapy is all about!)
  6. You feel supported. Chances are, you have experienced enough negative judgment in your life. You don’t need this from your therapist, a person you are likely PAYING to provide you with unconditional support and compassion. Ideally, in these session, you feel like you are being treated as a whole and genuine person, rather than a statistic, diagnosis, or cluster of symptoms.
  7. You trust his or her judgment. This is so important. Obviously, therapists are humans, but when you trust your therapist’s judgment, he or she has clearly exhibited a level of intelligence, competence, and understanding in your unique situation. That takes intentional therapeutic skill, and I don’t believe it just happens “randomly!” This doesn’t mean point-blank accepting any feedback or advice he/she gives you, but it does mean that you place some value and significance on the professional opinion provided (and not just because they are arbitrarily a professional!)