I’ve never been in therapy before, but I’ve heard about my friends’ experiences. Some of them say counseling is really helpful, but others say they didn’t get much out of it. I know paying out of pocket for therapy can be expensive so, of course, I want to make sure it’s worth it. How will I know that therapy is working?
This is a great question, and one each therapist at Emily Cook Therapy often answers when speaking with people just like you who are considering starting therapy. Here are answers from each of our practice’s professional counselors and marriage and family therapists in Bethesda, MD:
**This post is the first in what we hope is a helpful, new monthly series! Even though each therapist at Emily Cook Therapy works from a similar overall counseling philosophy, we are also each unique in how we think about problems and offer support. We hope by reading our different answers to the same question, you get a better sense of who we are as individuals and how we each could help!**
Emily Cook, licensed marriage and family therapist and practice owner: “The most basic answer I can give is that you know that therapy is working when you feel relief. When therapy is a safe place to share what you’re struggling with, and your counselor listens closely so that you feel understood, you will feel relief from carrying a burden alone. When, over time, the problems that brought you to therapy change in a positive direction, you will feel relief from pain. Although sometimes therapy raises intensity before lessening it (the metaphor would be when a massage therapist kneads out a knot: it hurts a little at the time, because that’s the spot that needs tension relief, but afterwards you feel better not worse), therapy is working when you notice positive results in every session.”
Nooshin Kiankhooy, licensed professional counselor: “I think that you know that therapy is working when you eventually start to feel better. When I work with my clients, I like to create tangible goals and re-visit them as often as possible: that way you know that what we are working is what you came to get support with in the first place. Personally, I enjoy using scales with my clients as a way of measurement. For example, ranking their anxiety on a scale from 1-10: this allows us to see what progress has been made week to week.”
Colleen McCarron, licensed professional counselor: “Therapy is a great first step in self-discovery and awareness. In my experience, clients know that therapy is working when they have a clear set of goals for therapy and communicate them with their therapist. Therapists can suggest interventions that appropriately help you meet those goals, and motivate you to feel you can make changes. If you find yourself thinking about these goals and effectively acting on them outside of session, the therapeutic process is in action. This can take time, as the therapeutic process requires developing trust with your therapist, so it’s important to allow 4-6 sessions before evaluating change.”
Kaitlin Doyle, licensed marriage and family therapist: In my experience a good measure of whether therapy is working is not when long-standing problems suddenly go away, but rather when clients build a connection with their therapist and find hope that they can overcome challenges. Often, the issues that bring clients to therapy took years to build up, but when clients can start to observe patterns in their lives and learn skills to move differently in their interactions, they will certainly notice improvement that comes from effective therapy.
Michelle Collins, licensed marriage and family therapist: Many people are so anxious/afraid/worried about making such an investment but not seeing any return! In my opinion, you know that therapy is working when the voice (e.g. thoughts, feelings, behaviors) you develop in therapy becomes the voice that guides you; whether that be in relationships, decision-making, or daily life tasks.
Caryn Malkus, licensed marriage and family therapist: In my experience, clients know that therapy is working when they notice shifts or changes in their mental, emotional, and physical states. Clients report feeling calmer, happier, lighter, more balanced, and more equipped to handle stressful situations and difficult relationships with increased confidence and ease. As a new client, you will set initial goals that will inform our work together; over time you will start to feel yourself moving closer to fulfilling those wishes and dreams for yourself!
Jocylynn Stephenson, licensed marriage and family therapist: You’ll know therapy is working when you begin to feel and think differently about the problem. Oftentimes, problems seem unsolvable simply because we’re stuck thinking about them in only one way. When you can look at your difficulty from a different perspective, new solutions will appear as well.