When Therapy Gets Hard, What Can I Do?

By Sparklle Rainne (They/Them)|Updated June 22, 2022

When it comes to therapy, many people find it vital to stick with the process even through the tough times to find the success they want. There can be ups and downs and other challenges throughout the therapeutic process. Why might the therapeutic process get hard? Is it normal for things to get worse before they get better sometimes? Perhaps more importantly, when therapy gets hard, what can you do?

About The Therapeutic Process

In therapy, people often cover topics that are challenging to talk about. These include but aren't limited to subjects such as family life, grief and loss, work, romantic relationships, trauma, and mental health concerns or conditions, like obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, or depression. With this in mind, it is expected that you may not necessarily leave every therapy session feeling better - which does not mean therapy won't help long-term.

Sometimes, going to therapy means you start processing your feelings and life circumstances in ways you haven't before. Maybe, before therapy, you repressed your emotions and decided to attend therapy to mitigate the mental and physical health effects of doing so. You begin to acknowledge things like sadness and anger, and you may feel more vulnerable. Though the outcome is positive, this is one example of what could make therapy hard. It might be the first time you feel grief or anger about a topic, including those from the distant past.

Therapy can also change your interpersonal relationships and other parts of life. You may start to set boundaries for the first time, use self-care or change your self-care practices, communicate more effectively and directly, or find that you need to make other changes to be your best, most taken care of yourself. While positive, this can come with an adjustment period. It takes energy, after all, to implement positive changes. So, what steps might you take to move forward when therapy gets hard? There are answers.

How To Move Forward When Therapy Gets Hard

With it in mind that everyone attends therapy for a different reason and with it in mind that there are many different kinds of therapy out there, there are some tips that may be advantageous for those who wonder how to move forward when therapy gets hard. Here are some things to consider:

  • Use 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 or engage in other physical activity, or journal after therapy. However, these are only some potential examples of relaxing activities to consider. You might find it equally as comforting to work on an art project, play or listen to music, meditate, or try something else. It is normal to feel tired after therapy, and though this isn't always the case, it might be something to keep in mind when you schedule your sessions.

  • Allow for reflection time after therapy.

Similar to the use of self-care activities after a session, some people prefer to schedule therapy at a time where they don't have to do anything afterward, especially if they want to work on topics that are emotional or challenging for them. It is normal to want alone time after a session. 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. Feeling your feelings, even though they may be painful and experiencing ups and downs, are often great signs; likely, it means that you're doing the work. Your therapist may or may not give you homework, which some people choose to do right after a session, whereas others may choose to do these at-home activities throughout the following week.

  • Take inventory of your needs in life.

A saying goes, "most of the work you do in therapy happens outside of therapy." As you work with a therapist, you may better understand your needs as a person. These can include physical needs (for example, the need to go to bed early so you can get enough sleep), emotional needs (for example, the need to set boundaries with loved ones), or something else. If you aren't used to asserting or recognizing your needs, this can be a process that takes time and energy. However, it is worthwhile and typically gets easier over time.

  • Celebrate your success.

When things get tough in therapy or life, it can be advantageous 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 but aren't limited to 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 (IE, friends, family, and community members) when you need it throughout the week, improved anger management and distress tolerance skills, an increase in self-care activities, better communication, and more. You and your therapist will often work together to set goals and revisit them every six months or so. This is a chance to acknowledge your successes, but it's also something you can reflect on and bring up at any time.

  • Consider seeking additional support.

Sometimes, you might notice a need for additional support when therapy gets hard. Again, therapy can come with many different internal changes that can lead to external changes, and there are times when an increase in other forms of support could be advantageous. A common example of what additional support might look like could be going to a support group every week. Support groups are proven beneficial by research, and they are often free. Your therapist may be able to recommend a support group or help you look for one. It's also worth noting that these can occur online or in person. Additional support can look like adding other medical and mental health professionals to your support team.

  • Allow the process to take time.

It's vital to be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to move at your own pace in therapy. Emotional work is work, and the work you do when you work with a therapist is an example. It's not uncommon in the slightest to have a mix of difficult realizations and exciting realizations, to feel that some therapy sessions are more productive than others, to wonder if you're making progress or not but proceed to realize how far you've come out of the blue, and at times, for things to get worse before they get better. You don't need to rush into therapy. Healing and learning are both things that take time, and therapy may entail one or, perhaps most often, both.

It is also essential to note that the most suitable and helpful therapist for one person might not be the right fit for another. Therapists are ready to handle this possibility, so do not worry about offending your therapist if you need to switch. Remember that therapy can come in diverse forms; there's individual, group, couples, and family therapy, and even within all of those things, there are many different modalities that can be used. A therapeutic modality refers to the approach that a therapist takes. Additionally, therapy can be conducted face-to-face, or it can be via video chat, or over the phone. What matters is that it's helping you as a unique person.

Online Therapy

Online therapy is a convenient way to work with a therapist from the privacy of your home or anywhere else with a reliable and stable internet connection. Furthermore, it's backed by research and is proven effective in improving symptoms of various mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. Whether you want to work on something like interpersonal relationships, symptoms of a mental health condition, or something else, online therapy may be the right fit for you. When you join the BetterHelp platform, you'll take a short questionnaire that'll allow our team to match you with a licensed professional who meets your therapy needs. If you need to cancel your BetterHelp plan, or if you want to change the therapist you see through the platform at any point in time, we make it easy to do so. There are currently over 20,000 independent mental health professionals with a range of specialties on the BetterHelp platform who offer therapy. BetterHelp plans are often more affordable than traditional, in-person therapy services without insurance. Financial aid may be available for those who need it.

Are you ready to get started? Click here to sign up for BetterHelp, or read our website's therapist reviews and FAQs to learn more.

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