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What is therapy? Part 6

Is therapy working for you?

This can be a difficult question to address because we all have different ideas about what 'working' means. Some enter therapy hoping to eradicate their need for others. Since humans are more like pack animals than lone leopards, this is not possible. The therapist might feel things are proceeding well if the person starts to understand their aversion to neediness, but the person may see this as a failure. Agreeing on clear goals (e.g. date more) makes it far easier to evaluate how things are going, but circumscribed goals rarely do justice to the complexity of living. In fact, many people only realize what they wanted out of the therapy quite some way into it. Also, different kinds of difficulties respond to therapy in different ways, so it isn't always possible to sketch out clear guidelines regarding how to tell if things are going well. 

Having said that, there are ways to tell if things are working out or not. You should have a gradually deepening sense that the therapist you are working with is engaged with and interested in you. As time goes on, they should appear to be reliable and consistent, and they should be developing an understanding of the challenges you face. Your sessions should not frequently be rescheduled and cancelled by your therapist, and you can expect that them to remember at least the main elements of your story.  Many people will start to feel better soon after entering a psychotherapy process. Taking steps towards changing in positive ways and finally having someone listen with sincere interest is uplifting by itself. Lasting change takes a little longer, but you should soon notice that you start to think a little differently about your life. These small changes are usually accompanied by a sense of hope, but some can also be quite painful. For example, it might initially hurt if you have been getting into trouble because you have found it difficult to think about certain things, and you have now found the courage to start doing so. Progress in therapy is rarely one straight line upwards. As with climbing a mountain, you may find yourself descending into small valleys even though the overall trajectory is up. Don't be discouraged; this is normal. Setbacks are an opportunity to learn something. The whole picture is what's most important. Therapy is not easy; some patterns have been in place for decades, and it takes some effort and patience to shift them. A more productive and fulfilling life is possible. 

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