Why Is Therapy Hard? How To Move Through Challenges

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated March 13, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Therapy is often challenging. Still, many people find it is vital to stay with the process and their therapist to find the success they desire. 

Finding ways to continue to push through the challenges of counseling (even when it might feel hard) can enable you to reap the benefits of treatment long term—helping you to find peace and live a happier life.

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About the therapeutic process

In therapy, people may discuss topics that feel challenging to talk about—prompting many to feel as if therapy is so hard. These can include subjects such as:

  • Family life 
  • Grief and loss 
  • Work 
  • Romantic relationships 
  • Stress
  • Life changes 
  • Trauma 
  • Mental health concerns or conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, disorder or depression

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

In therapy, you may notice that you don’t feel better after each session. Therapy is often a long-term treatment option, so there could be distressing feelings or symptoms that arise throughout the process as a part of therapy—which is sometimes painful in the moment but productive in the long-term. The benefits of therapy may start to appear after a few sessions or after some time has passed. If you have questions about this phase of in-person or online therapy, you may consider speaking with your therapist regarding progress in therapy. A good therapist can work with you through the difficulties and help you to stick with the therapy sessions; embracing every area of growth as it arises.

Vulnerability after therapy 

In therapy, you might start processing your feelings and life circumstances in ways you haven't before. This can occur across therapy types. For instance, you could have been repressing your emotions in the past and decided to attend therapy to mitigate the mental and physical health effects of doing so. 

Therapy can cause you to acknowledge emotions like sadness and anger, and you may feel more vulnerable as a result. This might be the first time you’ve felt grief or anger about a certain topic, even if it is from the distant past. Though the eventual outcome of “feeling your feelings” can be positive, it may not always seem like you’re making progress. This is one example of what could make therapy hard.

Finding difficulties in relationships after counseling

Therapy can also be a catalyst for change in your interpersonal relationships, including romantic relationships. As a result of counseling, you may start to set boundaries for the first time, practice self-care, or communicate more effectively, for example. While often positive, changes can come with an adjustment period, and they may cause you to reevaluate your close relationships.

How to move forward when therapy is getting hard

Therapy is sometimes challenging. Below are some tips to consider when therapy is getting hard:

Try relaxing activities after your sessions

Soothing activities can differ from person to person. Some people might find it helpful to take a bath or shower, spend time outdoors, take a walk, engage in other physical activities, or journal after therapy. However, you might find it equally comforting to work on an art project, play or listen to music, or meditate. 

Allow for reflection time after therapy

It can be normal to feel tired after therapy. Consider keeping this in mind when scheduling therapy. Some people prefer to schedule sessions when they don't have to do anything afterward. They might do this if they want to work on topics that are emotional or challenging for them. On the other hand, if you are going through a difficult time, you may also consider having someone you can call or spend time with if you need a distraction or support later that day.

Even though it may be uncomfortable in the moment, experiencing ups and downs during therapy can be a healthy sign. It could mean you're processing the lessons you learned in your session. Your therapist may also give you homework, which some people choose to complete immediately following a session. Others may choose to do these at-home activities the following day or later in the week.

Some therapists might allow you to send messages or emails after a session to check in if you require support. This option could be beneficial if you want a quick suggestion or reminder in terms of coping skills. 

Take inventory of your needs

You may have heard the saying, "Most of the work you do in therapy happens outside of therapy". As you work with a therapist, you may begin to better understand your needs. These could include physical needs (e.g., going to bed early so you can get enough sleep) or emotional needs (e.g., setting boundaries with loved ones) among others. If you aren't used to asserting or recognizing your needs, this process could take time and energy. However, it may be worthwhile, and it could get easier over time. 

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Celebrate your successes 

When topics feel tough in therapy, it may be rewarding to celebrate the successes and achievements you've made. Success in therapy can take many different forms. Examples of successes and achievements you might celebrate include:

  • An increase in positive self-talk

  • The ability to identify and reframe maladaptive thoughts

  • Feeling more in touch with your emotions, your body, or both 

  • The ability to identify and name your emotions and needs, whether internally or externally

  • An increased ability to reach out to your support system, including friends, family, and community members

  • Improved anger management and distress tolerance skills

  • An increase in self-care activities

  • Better communication

You and your therapist can work together to set goals and revisit them periodically. This practice could give you the opportunity to acknowledge your successes, and you can reflect on them whenever you want. 

Consider seeking additional support

You might need additional support when therapy gets hard. Therapy can bring about many different internal changes, so there may be times when other forms of support could be advantageous. For example, you might sign up for a support group or attend an anger management class.

Support groups can be beneficial, and they are often free. Your therapist may be able to recommend a support group or help you look for one. Some therapists manage support groups outside of their practice. These groups might occur online or in person. You can access additional support by adding other medical and mental health professionals such as a psychiatrist or doctor to your support team.  

Accept that therapy can take time

Try to be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to move at your own pace in therapy. Emotional work can be challenging. It may not be uncommon to experience the following: 

  • A mix of difficult and exciting realizations 

  • A feeling that some therapy sessions are more productive than others

  • Wondering if you're making progress or not 

  • Suddenly realizing how far you've come

  • Feeling that emotions have gotten worse before they get better 

Understand that not all therapy modalities work for everyone

Treatment methods, therapists, and approaches can vary in effectiveness depending on the individual. Therapists are often trained to handle this possibility, so it can be normal to switch counselors if you decide you need to. Therapy can come in diverse forms, including: 

  • Individual therapy 

  • Group therapy or support groups  

  • Couples counseling  

  • Family therapy

For each type of therapy, there can be many different modalities that might be used. A therapeutic modality refers to the approach that a therapist takes. Additionally, therapy can be conducted in person or online. 

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Online therapy options

If you are not currently in therapy or are considering switching therapists, you may consider multiple avenues of support. Those who face barriers to treatment that might make therapy harder such as finances, distance, or availability, for example, may appreciate the accessibility of affordable counselling. Online therapy can be a convenient way to find a therapist, choose a therapist, and work with a therapist from the comfort of your home or anywhere else with a reliable and stable internet connection.

Furthermore, internet-based therapy is backed by research and has been proven effective in improving symptoms of various mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. Whether you want to work on interpersonal relationships, symptoms of a mental health condition, or general well-being, online therapy may be the right fit for you. Through a platform like BetterHelp, you can gain access to over 35,000 independent mental health professionals with a range of specialties. 

Takeaway

If therapy starts to feel complicated or you feel worse before you feel better, it may be worth discussing these concerns with your therapist alongside utilizing coping mechanisms at home. If you're interested in looking for a counselor or want to switch therapists, reach out to BetterHelp for further professional guidance. 
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