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Therapy is Hard: Why You Don’t Always Feel “Better” After a Session

not feeling better after therapy

Many people choose to start therapy because they want to “feel better.” This can mean different things to different people, but it often includes things like feeling less anxious, less depressed, “lighter,” more motivated, happier, more energetic, and more present. Why, then, you might ask, do you sometimes feel worse after a therapy session ends than when it begins?

Therapy is a process that involves identifying and exploring feelings and thoughts that are often related to challenging, painful, and even traumatic events from the past and the present, as well as discussing anxieties and fears about the future. While evidence shows that talking about such things with a trusted professional can yield positive outcomes in terms of mental health, emotional regulation, interpersonal relationships, coping strategies, and more, these effects are not instant. Feeling “better” happens gradually, is not linear, and may not look like what you expect.

Unpacking Emotions: The Therapeutic Journey as Sorting Through Keepsakes

It can be helpful to think about the journey of therapy as similar to sorting through boxes of old keepsakes. You probably have an idea of what is in some of the boxes, and perhaps you have some expectations about what memories and feelings might come up throughout the process. Once you actually start sorting, though, you may likely come across items you had forgotten about and things that hold more emotional significance than you had anticipated. Some items might be broken, faded, or dusty. It might take much longer than you planned, and you will probably have to make a bit of a mess in the process. There might be times that you want to give up and just shove everything back in the boxes and back on the shelf, but eventually things will feel more organized, the mess will be cleaned up, and you'll feel better for having taken the time and enduring the discomfort of going through the steps. A majority of your therapy sessions might feel like you're uncovering more and more objects that were boxed up and forgotten, and perhaps you'll wish you had left them on the shelf. With time, though, you'll start to notice and feel the clear space on the shelves of your mind, and you'll be glad you started and continued with the process.

With that said, it is important to note that there likely will be sessions that do result in you feeling significantly better than when you started. Your therapy sessions may bring about new insights and understandings of your feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and relationships. You might experience a revelation about something that has been holding you back or causing you prolonged pain, the knowledge of which could allow you to make some changes and move forward.

All of this might make the prospect of therapy feel a bit scary. Perhaps you have been considering sorting through the boxes in your mind and you aren't sure if you can tolerate it. A skilled therapist, like the ones at Insight and Action Therapy, can help you to safely take the boxes off the shelf, sort through the contents, and put them back between sessions so you still have some floor space to go about your daily life. They will be there to support you throughout the process and will let you take the lead so you go at your own pace and depth. They will offer empathy and compassion when you uncover painful things, and they will celebrate the victories when you experience breakthrough moments. 

Feel free to reach out to us at 347-327-3698 or fill out an inquiry form to ask about how we can help or to book a session. We look forward to accompanying you on your journey to better.


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