A common question you might have as you begin your therapy journey is how to tell if therapy is working for you. When you first start meeting with your therapist, they might ask a number of questions to see what you need and help establish your goals. Therapy can look different for everyone, and establishing goals can be helpful in understand how therapy is working for you later on in your journey. One of the most important questions is why you are there. As you answer, you can work together to create goals you want to meet. As you and your therapist work through these goals, they are generally a good indicator as to whether or not talk therapy is positively benefitting you.
Goals in therapy might look like:
- Building life skills
- Improving self-control
- Learning how to self-soothe
- Moving past traumatic events
- Working through relationship conflicts
Setting goals is one way to tell if you’re making progress in therapy. In this article, we’ll share several other ways you can measure personal growth over time.
A change in thought patterns can be a sign of therapy working for you
When changes occur — especially unexpected changes — it can be all too easy to sink into unhelpful thought patterns. For example, some people may feel stuck in either/or thinking or blaming themselves. Others may ignore evidence, jump to conclusions, or overgeneralize.
As you talk with your therapist, they’ll help you unwind harmful thought patterns and reframe unhelpful thoughts into positive ones. For example, they can help you:
- Avoid seeing worst-case scenarios
- Gather all the evidence
- Problem solve
- Think about alternatives
- Understand that what you’re feeling is normal
- Weigh the pros and cons
With that, it’s possible to replace them with healthier thoughts that are grounding instead. When you begin to observe a switch in your thought patterns, that can be a sign of progress and that therapy is working for you.
Noticing a decrease in initial symptoms can be a sign of therapy benefitting you
Many people come into therapy due to mental health symptoms taking over certain aspects of their lives. It’s not unusual to start treatment because you have symptoms such as excessive worry, feeling stuck, mood swings, unusual sadness, or withdrawal from people.
You might even come in because you can’t really tell how you feel despite having a nagging sense that something is bothering you.
As you continue in therapy, you might notice that your initial symptoms decrease. For example, you might even begin to notice the benefits of positive mental health, such as:
- Better coping with challenges that come your way
- Contributing to your community in meaningful ways
- Realizing your full potential
- Seeing an increase in your work productivity
Your initial symptoms might not occur as much each day, then disappear altogether some days. You may not even notice this until a troublesome event brings the challenges flooding back in full force. Even the slightest change in symptom severity and duration is progress that should be acknowledged and celebrated, as they are a sign that therapy is working.
You experience fewer nightmares and better sleep
Some mental health conditions (like trauma or anxiety) can cause nightmares to plague your sleep, making it hard to get enough rest. Without enough sleep, you might notice an increase in other symptoms, which adds to the nightmares. This cycle often continues to worsen unless you get help from a therapist or doctor.
When you have nightmares, your therapist may invite you to:
- Talk about them as they can reveal how you are feeling day-to-day.
- Keep a dream journal to get the nightmares on paper and free them from your mind.
- Look back through the journal to track if you’re making progress in therapy.
With time, you might notice that you have fewer nightmares to talk about, and they are less distressing to you altogether. That’s a big sign that all your hard work in therapy is paying off.
You're able to work through substance abuse issues in your therapy sessions
Some mental health symptoms make each day difficult, leading to substance use and abuse as a coping mechanism. In therapy, you will learn helpful coping skills designed to replace harmful ones.
Your therapist may introduce coping skills one by one, allowing you to try them out and see what works. Skills often taught in therapy include:
- Getting out with friends
- Going on a nature walk
- Light exercise
- Making a to-do list
- Relying on humor
- Restorative breathing
- Taking time for hobbies
Not all coping skills work for everyone, so it’s important to try them out for yourself.
As you find ones that work, you may notice that your ability to manage your substance use improves. You might see fewer cravings as your new coping skills reduce the distress you feel during challenging moments. Eventually, you may discover that you rarely ever think about using your old coping mechanism anymore — and that’s a huge sign that therapy is working.
Tracking your progress through feedback-informed care
Along with noticing an improvement to your symptoms and how you’re feeling, you can also track your progress in therapy through feedback-informed care. Feedback-informed care is an innovative, evidence-based approach to mental health care that uses your feedback to help guide your therapeutic journey. At SonderMind, this is built right into our platform, so it’s easy for you to collaborate with your therapist about your care.
A big part of feedback-informed care are clinical questionnaires (CQs). Before and after a session, you’ll have the chance to fill out CQs to answer questions about your mental well-being. Your CQ responses are tracked over time so you and your therapist can identify any behavior patterns or opportunities to reflect on changes in your well-being.
Throughout your therapy journey, CQs can help your therapist better understand if you’re meeting your goals, whether your treatment is on track, or if changes to your treatment plan need to be made.
Your therapy journey is unique, and so is your progress throughout therapy
If you ever feel like you’re not making progress in therapy, you can talk to your therapist about your concerns. They will help you by adjusting the approach or adding techniques that can assist in reaching your goals. You may also consider switching therapists with their help to gain new perspectives that aid in your healing.
Remember: progress in therapy will look different for each person. You do not have to make huge, earth-shattering changes to see improvement and it's important to review goals with your therapist to tell if talk therapy is working for you. Just look for the little things in the beginning. Over time, those small improvements add up.
For more information, visit these additional resources: