Expectations For Your Therapy Journey: What Does Progress Look Like?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated July 12, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Whether you’re considering participating in therapy or have just begun the counseling process, you may be wondering what to expect. Everyone’s journey with therapy can look different, and it may take varying amounts of time to start making progress and positive changes in your life. While therapy can be a lengthy procedure, the process is not all stress and hardship. It may be helpful to understand the phases of therapy you may progress through as you delve deeper into self-knowledge and self-healing. Keep reading to learn more about the therapeutic process and what you may be able to expect along the way.


Initiating the journey

Since therapy is a personal journey, it’s possible that your experience could be nonlinear or complex. When participating in therapy, it can be important to trust the process while maintaining open and honest communication with your therapist regarding your feelings about your treatment plan. The two of you may find a way to collaborate on creating a positive therapy journey together.

When you begin therapy, you and your therapist will often focus on building a stronger relationship. You may not feel comfortable starting the healing process right away, as your therapist is a stranger to you, and you might need some time before you are okay with being fully open and vulnerable with them. You may start by talking about your thoughts, feelings, and relationships in your life while your therapist listens and validates your experiences. This validation can help to create a sense of safety between the two of you, which then may lead you to have deeper, more closely held emotions that could lead to greater therapeutic insight.

At this phase in the journey, counseling may slightly reduce the mental health symptoms you have been experiencing. This shift is likely due to the benefits of simply talking to someone else about what you have been going through. However, it is important to note that the real gains are likely still yet to be made, and it can be crucial to stick with and trust the therapeutic process at this phase. 

In other cases, counseling may cause slightly worsening symptoms at the start of the process, as opening up to someone may reveal deep and intense emotions. This doesn’t mean therapy isn’t working to treat the symptoms of the mental illness; rather, you may just need more time to see its full effect.



Once you and your therapist have developed a connection, you can start to approach a central question of your counseling journey: what challenges are you hoping to address? You may have started sessions with an idea of what you would like to work on, such as tackling relationship troubles, improving emotional hardships, building greater self-esteem, or deepening your relationship with yourself. Even if you already have a sense of what you’re hoping to gain from therapy, working through the process may help illuminate potential underlying concerns that are contributing to the challenges you are experiencing in your life.

On the other hand, you may have no tangible feeling of what you want from therapy. Maybe you started your journey because you don’t feel like you’re the best version of yourself that you could be, but you don’t know what that version looks like. Maybe you have a general sense of stagnation or frustration in your life, and are unsure how to address it. It is perfectly okay and understandable not to know what you hope to get out of therapy – that too can be part of the journey. Your therapist can help you identify your idea of progress in personal development and how you can start moving in that direction. 

Goals for your experience

This phase can be the most exciting component of the journey. By this point, it’s likely that you and your therapist have built a strong therapeutic relationship and have identified a concern you want to work on – now you can develop a plan to address that concern and engage in personal growth.

You and your therapist can work as a team to create this plan. You may start by discussing your value systems and making sure you develop a plan that is authentic to you and supportive of your specific needs while you are tackling your goals. These goals may include finding a resolution to an ongoing conflict or challenge in your life or reducing symptoms of a mental health condition. It could also mean learning how to shift behavioral patterns, such as feeling empowered enough to stand up for yourself, integrating mindfulness into your daily life, prioritizing your own well-being, or something else. Having clearly stated goals can help you identify the progress you are making on your individual journey. 

Exploration can be the most difficult stage of this process. As you and your therapist embark on your treatment plan, you may uncover forgotten memories, emotional challenges, and hidden thoughts and feelings. You might begin to realize that certain belief systems are not serving you any longer and start to reassess your understanding of other people, including close relationships in your life. As you re-examine your past experiences, you might even learn that you have survived trauma. Exploring different parts of your mind and consciousness that you have previously been disconnected from can be complicated and potentially messy.

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

This phase of your therapy journey may be emotionally distressing, but it may be helpful to know that it is all part of making important self-progress. Your therapist can be there to support you every step of the way.  For those seeking a more transformative healing experience, a unique approach called Brandon Bays' Journey therapy may help individuals heal from the very core of their being.

Integrating counseling lessons into your everyday life

One of the most important considerations about your therapeutic journey is that it may never end. Even if you feel like you have addressed the initial challenge that brought you to counseling, there isn’t anything wrong with continuing to work on yourself and your mental health.

After all, your mental health can have effects on other aspects of your life, including your physical health. If you find yourself experiencing new or worsening physical symptoms alongside mental health challenges, you may need to seek medical advice from a licensed healthcare provider.

Identifying an endpoint

In some cases, though, your journey may feel as though it has reached an endpoint. Perhaps you feel as though you have maximized the potential benefits and self-growth from the work you are doing with a particular therapist. In these instances, you may be comfortable stepping away from therapy. Maybe you show up to therapy with nothing to talk about, or your provider has suggested that you may be in a place to continue your healing independently. 

Regardless of how or if your journey concludes, therapy can continue to be a helpful support system and a resource to lean on. Navigating life can be complicated, and future challenges could cause a resurgence of unhealthy thought or behavior patterns. A therapist can be a beneficial resource for working through challenging times, no matter what stage of life you’re in.

Other options for support

If you’re considering therapy but aren’t sure where to begin, online therapy could help you start the process with ease. It’s likely that you’ll want to find a therapist that matches your specific needs, preferences, and situation. With online therapy platforms such as BetterHelp, you can fill out a form stating the areas you’re struggling in and what qualities you’d like in a provider. 

Online counseling

BetterHelp provides a comprehensive database of counselors with proven expertise and experience in helping their clients improve their lives and understand themselves more deeply. Upon matching with one of these providers, you can speak with them from the comfort of your home and start to determine whether they’re the right fit for you. You can switch therapists as needed and participate in sessions for as long as you’d like. Having control over your therapy journey may allow you to have a more positive experience. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

Research has indicated that there may be no substantial difference in efficacy between online therapy and therapy received in a traditional in-person setting. In one study, clients who completed their therapy journeys online saw a significant reduction in symptoms of a range of different mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, mood disorders, phobias, and more. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, was the chosen approach that contributed to these outcomes and worked by providing participants with the tools they needed to change their thoughts and alter their behaviors.  


The therapy journey can be complex, but it can also result in significant progress and a more complete sense of self. A mental health professional can guide you through the stages of self-reflection, goal setting, and exploration to help you enhance your well-being and emerge as a more resilient, healed individual. Online therapy may be a helpful way to receive mental health care and begin your therapeutic journey from a place of freedom and comfort, ultimately leading to more positive outcomes in your life.
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