Telltale Signs You're Seeing Progress During Your Therapy Sessions

As awareness around the importance of prioritizing mental health continues to rise in popularity and necessity, therapy has become an increasingly sought-after resource. Whether your goal is to address anxiety, depression, stress, relationship difficulties, life management, or simply to get to know yourself better and develop healthy coping skills, therapy can be an effective outlet for growing more confident. Officially called psychotherapy, though colloquially referred to simply as therapy, this terminology refers specifically to talk therapy, according to Cleveland Clinic. Under the psychotherapy umbrella, there are numerous forms of therapy from which to choose. Types of talk therapy include dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, interpersonal therapy (IPT), and a handful of other proven processes like humanistic therapy. Determining the best type of therapy for your needs and finding a practitioner who is a good fit for you are the first steps in starting your therapy journey.

Once you're established with a therapist, counselor, social worker, or other mental health practitioner with whom you feel you have a trustworthy and effective working relationship, you're likely to wonder if your therapy sessions are creating progress in your life. Even though it's common to seek therapy for a specific area of concern, the techniques, habits, and self-reflection you gain from therapy can potentially have positive effects on all areas of your life. To figure out if you're seeing progress in your therapy journey, here are some signs to look for both during therapy appointments and between sessions.

Progress is personal

When measuring success and progress in therapy sessions, the most important thing to keep in mind is that each person's experience is highly individualized, therefore results are personally assessed. Since the reason each person seeks therapy is unique to them, their progress will be equally unique. SELF reports that there isn't a single way to measure therapeutic success since there are so many different subtypes of therapy and reasons why individuals choose therapy.

Similarly, your progress may not look the same during each therapy session, between appointments, or even on a day-to-day basis. Like many things in life, therapeutic progress isn't linear and is more akin to a wave than a straight line. Some days, it may feel like you've taken a step forward while other days it might feel like you've gone two steps back. Know that this is absolutely okay and a completely normal experience. In fact, feeling like things are getting slightly worse can even be a sign that therapy is working, says My Online Therapy. Yes, therapy resulting in things going slightly backward sounds like an utterly counterproductive result of what therapy is supposed to do, but sometimes you must confront unhealthy coping mechanisms and unlearn dysfunctional communication habits in order to experience positive progress. It isn't unusual to feel uncomfortable while learning how to replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones; just be certain to let your therapist know how you're feeling so they can give you advice for appropriately addressing the discomfort.

You feel you can trust your therapist

Finding a therapist or mental health practitioner who is the best fit for you, taking into account their areas of expertise and compatibility of personality, is one of the most effective ways to make positive progress on your therapy journey. When you first begin therapy, it can be a good idea to try introductory sessions with multiple different practitioners so that you can choose the one with whom you feel the most comfortable. You can think of this practice as akin to therapy dating, meaning that you try diverse subtypes of psychotherapy and sessions with various therapists until you find the perfect match.

Once you've become established with a practitioner, you'll know that you're making progress if you find yourself feeling increasingly comfortable opening up and sharing your personal experiences with your therapist. Speaking to a therapist can be a vulnerable experience since it frequently requires revealing intimate details about your life, relationships, experiences, and other confidential information. For instance, if you are attending therapy for the purpose of processing grief or loss, you'll want to feel like your therapist's office is a safe space to be emotional. Per The Healthy, a sign of progress may come in the form of hearing the voice of your therapist in your head between sessions, meaning that you slowly begin to implement practices learned during your therapy sessions to situations in your daily life.

Your relationship with yourself strengthens

As you continue with your therapy journey, one of the benefits is the opportunity for self-reflection. No matter the psychotherapy subtype you choose, including virtual talk therapy or sessions held on therapy apps, you should gradually begin to notice your relationship with yourself becoming deeper and stronger. After you've created a trusting connection with your therapist, embracing the questions, exercises, and encouragement of your practitioner to explore aspects of your life that may have gone ignored can lead you toward greater self-fulfillment. Sharing personal anecdotes and past experiences, as well as current happenings, with your therapist and finding yourself reaching deeper levels of self-expression over time can help you learn more about yourself.

According to SELF, your therapist will also use their observations of your communication, habits, and behaviors to help you identify patterns you may not realize you exhibit. While you find yourself growing more confident in your positive qualities and contributions, having the support of a therapist who guides you toward cultivating a stronger relationship with yourself can allow you to see increased progress. Having a collaborative dynamic with your therapist and together creating goals for your therapy sessions leads to better overall outcomes when it comes to treatment results, per American Psychological Association. Your practitioner should simultaneously collaborate with you and set you up for success post-therapy. As your confidence, self-belief, and relationship with yourself improve, you're on your way toward positive success for both the present moment and life after therapy.

Your coping skills become healthier

Even if you don't seek therapy for the purpose of improving your coping skills, there's a pretty good chance that you'll end up learning healthier habits for communication, managing daily life, and working through obstacles you encounter. Psychotherapy is rooted in evidence-based processes that are constantly evolving in accordance with the findings of ongoing research. Therapy is based on healthy communication and positive behavioral shifts, so you'll know you're making progress if you find yourself responding to situations in increasingly salutary ways. Your therapist will help you unlearn unhealthy coping methods such as impulsive spending, trauma drive, stonewalling, and anger-based behaviors like lashing out or destroying items, according to Thriveworks. Many times, we develop coping methods that either helped us remain safe as children or currently help us numb emotional distress, including an overload of stress from daily life. However, the coping skills we develop on our own can be maladaptive and cause more harm or avoidance as we enter adulthood. If you find yourself replacing unhealthy coping methods with positive responses to stressful situations, then you're definitely making progress in your therapy sessions.

Working with a therapist can give you the opportunity to practice healthy coping mechanisms so that when you encounter similar situations in your life, you'll be equipped to address them appropriately. Healthy coping skills include, but are not limited to, mindfulness, exercise, journaling, and listening to music, says Healthline. Your practitioner can help you determine the best coping methods for you.

Your relationships with others improve

With enhanced and reinforced coping skills, the cultivation of healthy habits, and appropriate boundary setting, your relationships with others should also begin to improve as you continue on your therapy journey. There are endless ways that talk therapy can help you think through your interpersonal relationships, communication patterns, and default habits, like always agreeing to do things for others at your own expense, says The Light Program. Through learning how to change behaviors, you're likely to find yourself interacting with others in new ways, such as becoming more confident in your boundaries and more assertive in the initiative you take. Alongside a collaborative and trustworthy practitioner, you should start to notice positive shifts in how you approach your relationships with other people in your life, including your family members, friends, professional colleagues, neighbors, and the cashier at your local grocery store.

Couples therapy is another form of psychotherapy that takes place between a therapist and two clients, typically a couple in a romantic relationship, with the purpose of improving the communication between the partners and the pair's overall satisfaction with one another and their relationship. Progress in couples therapy is often assessed by a decrease in conflict within the relationship, per Advanced Psychiatry Associates. This type of progress applies to individual therapy treatment, wherein a person seeking one-on-one therapy with a practitioner may begin to notice fewer instances of interpersonal conflict in their life because they're working to develop healthier and more effective communication skills.

You feel hopeful and excited

Feeling positive emotions like happiness, excitement, and joyful anticipation are generally good things, and if you find yourself feeling more exuberant about your life as you continue with therapy then let those positive feelings be signs that you're making positive progress. Other blissful emotions you might feel more of aren't explicitly extroverted, per Positive Psychology. Experiencing calmness, serenity, quiet hope, and self-collected confidence are feelings that may make you feel like you're in a more meditative state than grinning ear-to-ear, but these are positive emotions that shouldn't be discounted given how impactful they can be. 

When on your therapy journey, be mindful not to develop a belief that you shouldn't experience unpleasant emotions at all or that feeling sensations such as anger, sadness, fear, and distress are indications that you aren't making progress in your sessions. Negative emotions exist for our survival, such as fear alerting us to potential threats of danger. The distinction lies within your therapist helping you discern which feelings you experience being legitimate alerts to danger and which instances of fear are the result of trauma or maladaptive patterns. Your practitioner can help you focus on the present moment through mindfulness methods or other therapeutic techniques that can quell maladaptive negative emotions. Feeling like you have balance in your life and control over situations, and realizing that stress is being replaced by more frequently experienced positive emotions are all signs that you're seeing upward progress in your therapy sessions.

You become confident and self-supportive

Even though a good therapist can begin to feel like a best friend, it's key to remember that it's a working relationship and that the goal of therapy is to eventually become able to appropriately address obstacles in your life on your own through increased confidence, self-belief, and coping skills learned in therapy sessions. The Healthy reveals that making positive progress involves finding yourself becoming more confident in your values and goals for your life, a boost in your self-esteem, and an ability to firmly believe that you are worthy when faced with vulnerable situations that would have made you question yourself before beginning therapy. 

Similarly, a sign that therapy is working is an ability to calmly and logically reflect back on the event, relationship, or experience that intrigued your interest in pursuing therapy in the first place. As your therapy journey unfolds, it's a good sign if you're able to think about that original experience with greater emotional tolerance and regulation, meaning that the original experience or event doesn't provoke the same negative response in you that it did when you first began therapy. This is a sign that you're not only making progress, but you're healing and replacing negative experiences with positive habits and self-fulfillment.