It is important to bear in mind, that effective therapy is not always what may instinctively come to mind. Believe it or not, therapy has a lot of science behind it. There are many different modalities of therapy (just like different types of exercise, medication, surgeries, etc.). Some modalities of therapy have more data collected on them than others. There is also a concept called evidence based therapy. This refers to the practice of delivering forms of therapy with strong data track records of being effective compared to other forms. For example, in scholarly studies, patients can be randomized to different therapy groups and metrics (e.g. days of sobriety) are collected, it is statistically analyzed for statistical significance, and the more effective and proven therapies are coined to be evidence based.
For therapy to be the most effective, it calls for consistent sessions, typically attendance every 1-2 weeks and can take 6-12 months to reach its full potential effect. Not only that, therapy will not always be comfortable. This is analogous to how exercise or physical therapy can initially be uncomfortable but consistent use over time, will provide a return on the investment of work and effort. A classic example is exposure therapy for anxiety disorders, which involves gradually confronting what makes one anxious.
So what are signs that things are not a fight with a therapist?
- you feel like you are talking about the same things repeatedly
- it doesn’t feel like there is progress or positive change made in day to day life
- it does not feel like an active engagement during the session
- there is a very “passive” feeling about it
- you don’t feel any connection with this provider, whatsoever. But also, if you feel too close to your provider (e.g. like best buddies), that is not necessarily healthy either. A therapist is here to be a source of support and helpful resource in your life and should not be giving unconditional validation without gently challenging you to push your a little.
- you continue to consistently not feel comfortable bringing up certain matters. If anything, the therapeutic environment should be one of the safest places you feel to disclose and process.
What are signs that you are in a healthy fit with a therapist?
Notice I used the word healthy. Not happy, super, or other adjectives, but “healthy.” Like diet and exercise, healthy choices are sometimes not the most comfortable or easy at first, but they are well worth it, even if it requires some work up front or being a little frank and honest with ourselves.
- you are not afraid to call yourself out and feel ok about it. We’re all human! Don’t fault yourself for not knowing better at one point. So that when you do know better, then you can do better : ).
- you feel you are able to approach uncomfortable matters and communicate more freely. This does not mean it will be stress or anxiety free, but matters start to feel more manageable.
- there really aren’t any “off limits” area for processing in the therapeutic environment
- you find yourself coming up with new ideas, ways of experiencing day to day life, and feel your thoughts and perspectives are challenged and growing
- sessions feel like a healthy and active exchange
- the effects of the therapy continue well outside your sessions. You find yourself practicing what was discussed. Sometimes therapists even give homework and that is a sign of a therapist who thinks about you continuing to apply the principles and make it part of your lifestyle!