A common expression between therapists is knowing that we begin planning for discharge on day one. Therapy is a wonderful tool but it’s not meant to make you reliant on a therapist for support. It’s meant to empower you to build your tools in your toolbox and eventually be able to reach your goals. My goal is always to put myself out of a job and help my clients manage the difficulties life throws at them without weekly therapy. Therapy is always here for you to come back and “tune up” but the goal is always to get you to make progress towards your goals!
What if we don’t feel like we are making progress?
What does progress even feel like in therapy?
1. Well, it can be a lot of different things. A big thing about progress is accepting that it doesn’t come all at once *cue light bulb style epiphany cartoon*. It’s important to celebrate the small successes that get you closer and closer to your end goal one step at a time. Progress can mean that things aren’t quite as hard, or that there seems to be a bit more space and time in between the waves. For some, progress means being able to get out of bed and shower today. For others, it means feeling confident enough to advocate for a raise or promotion at work. Therapy looks different for everyone and so does progress. Your therapist will help you turn your goals into small, attainable steps so that you can begin to feel your progress and feel proud of yourself for it!
Shannon Williams, LMFT
"Your therapist will help you turn your goals into small, attainable steps so that you can begin to feel your progress and feel proud of yourself for it!"
2. This is almost an impossible question to answer, as it depends on how the client defines progress. Are you showing up to therapy even if it is hard to do? Do you feel better after a session, or in general? Are you observing yourself taking steps towards your goal no matter how small? Do you recognize thought patterns that were not serving you and making adjustments? Are you communicating in a way that makes you feel good about yourself? Maybe you allowed yourself to talk about something difficult, and now you don’t feel great, but you took a risk in an emotionally safe space.
Does it seem like something is different but you just cannot put your finger on it?
All of these things can feel like progress. As long as the client perceives themselves to be doing something within therapy then, to me that is the feeling of progress.
Christine Guerrero, LCSW
"Do you recognize thought patterns that were not serving you and making adjustments? Are you communicating in a way that makes you feel good about yourself?"
3. Progress in therapy feels like progress. What does that mean you may ask? Well, in order for progress to be made an individual has to acknowledge that there is progress that needs to be made. Being able to see an individual have a moment of clarity in therapy and acknowledge areas they need to progress in is something truly amazing! No matter how many times I get to witness this in a session, it never seizes to show me how impactful therapy really is. Every person’s definition of progress is different. I always say that it’s not how fast you are progressing, it’s about if you can acknowledge that a moment of progress has been made; no matter how small! Progress signifies that effort is being made by an individual in achieving their therapeutic goals and that is such a great aspect of therapy to witness.
Marissa Cabral, LCSW, PPSC
"it never seizes to show me how impactful therapy really is."
4. Progress in therapy is often measured by a decrease or elimination of symptoms that once impaired a person’s functioning and overall well-being. When a person first begins therapy, they are often asked what they would like to work on. Ideally your therapist will work with you to set collaborative goals. You don't have to achieve a goal in therapy in order to note that progress is happening. Progress can take shape in many ways. If you feel that you are making some type of progress, you are probably right! Here are some examples that you are making progress in your therapy journey:
You have more control over your emotions. You are able to identify the emotion that you are feeling, and you are able to decide how you want to manage the emotion in the moment. I.e. “I feel so angry right now. The old me used to send angry text messages, or make hurtful phone calls. The new me takes a deep breath and watches a funny show to de-escalate the intensity of my emotions”.
Your thinking is less fixated on the problem/concern. I.e. “I am working on my social anxiety. I am actively practicing my recommended coping skills, and even though I still get anxious, I notice I am more willing to try new things, than I was prior to starting therapy”.
You are able to speak up and ask for what you need. You notice you begin feeling more comfortable with asserting yourself. You said no, you set your first boundary with a loved one, and the world did not end. ;)
You are able to connect with your support system. Often in times of despair, we tend to isolate ourselves, or feel the need to hide our struggles. As you progress through your therapy process, you may find an increased willingness to connect with loved ones and ask for help when needed.
You are patient with yourself, and show yourself more kindness. Your inner dialogue is changing. You notice less negative self-talk, and the shaming of self has decreased.
You are enjoying life more. You begin to notice the wins and the little things that bring you joy. They may have always been there, but you are now more attuned. Life begins to feel a little more balanced.
Karina Robles, LMFT
"You are enjoying life more."
5. Not like a straight line! Sure, there’s the obvious progress of developing insight towards our patterns - imagine puzzle pieces spread out on a table and being able to put pieces together and make sense of why we are the way we are - but there’s also the progress that doesn't feel as natural. It is my personal belief that we have to go through some level of discomfort to experience a change in our lives. Breaking old patterns and implementing new skills can feel scary and uncomfortable but it’s a normal part of growth. Be patient and trust in the process. It feels great to be able to say, “wow I would’ve handled that very differently a few months/years ago!”
Savanna Zar, AMFT
Private Practice Therapist & LPHA at a Substance Use Treatment Center
"we have to go through some level of discomfort to experience a change in our lives. Breaking old patterns and implementing new skills can feel scary and uncomfortable but it’s a normal part of growth."