Success, or progress, is difficult to measure in a medium so complicated as therapy. Almost everyone comes into therapy with different goals in mind, and a different way to reach them. A good understanding of what you consider “progress” allows you to understand how your own therapy is going.
Progress in therapy breaks down into two categories — objective goals and subjective goals. Objective progress is easier to follow, but on its own does not present a complete picture. Combining how therapy is working objectively with how it is working subjectively leads to greater insights into your personal journey and how to ensure it remains successful.
Objective goals are those that you can quantify when thinking of your therapy. Things like getting enough sleep at night, eating regularly, or the frequency of panic attacks are all quantifiable items.
Looking at how these facets of your life change over the course of therapy is a great starting point for figuring out if your therapy is working. Different goals may have different timelines.
One way to quantify some of these measurements is with a weekly or bi-weekly questionnaire. Answering the same set of questions regularly with, say, a scale from one to ten can help you understand how you are doing in the longer term. It is common to place extra weight on your current emotional state. Having a journal helps balance that.
There will be good days and bad days. When tracking any part of your journey, look for long-term trends. Plateaus and short downward trends do not necessarily imply that your current therapy plan is not working. Keeping track of the intensity of your symptoms, as well as filling out a journal or form on a regular basis can provide insight into your long-term progress and growth.
The majority of therapy’s measurements are subjective. Even the more objective goals of therapy are often measured on how you are feeling. Tracking subjective feelings and goals is challenging, and can often be overlooked when reflecting on your progress. Four core areas of improvement that are difficult to define are:
Over the course of your therapy, there may be times where some areas are improving while others plateau. That is okay. Oftentimes, therapy is many-sided. As general progress is made it can uncover something specific, allowing for progress in that area to outshine others, for a time.
Positive results from therapy are rarely a straightforward path. Each turn and bend may uncover something new about yourself, or be a simple dead end.
Self-acceptance is accurately seeing you for who you are — strengths, weaknesses, and everything in between. The ability to see yourself accurately is difficult and can block your belief that others see you for who you are and accept you too.
When therapy is effective, it can improve your sense of self. Feeling that you are more comfortable with yourself than when you started therapy is a good sign that it is working.
Self-knowledge is similar to self-acceptance. People with healthy self-knowledge understand themselves. They enjoy a clear view of themselves and their current life circumstances. Self-knowledge comes with an understanding of your emotions and actions at any given time.
It is okay to struggle in this area. Self-knowledge is complex, layered, and hard to pin down. Working on improving that area is a healthy way to begin and continue therapy. Feeling like you have gained a better sense of yourself is a good sign that you are progressing in your therapy.
Finding satisfaction in your relationships is another area where progress can shine. Our relationships with friends, family, and loved ones are a part of our daily lives. During therapy and after it has ended, it is common to see large improvements in the quality of your relationships, as well as the satisfaction and happiness they give.
Understanding and being considerate of others is a big, practical skill that therapy can help with. Like the others, these skills are not symptoms of mental illnesses, but how well we function in our daily lives.
This skill is related to both empathy and compassion — being able to understand others’ perspectives and being motivated to relieve their suffering. Being considerate of others can lead to bettering your relationships and seeing growth in this is a great sign that you are progressing in your therapy.
If you are concerned your therapy is not going well, bringing it up to your therapist is a good place to start. It is okay to have doubts, even after considering what objective and subjective goals you have been working on, and how they have improved.
The relationship between therapist and patient is an important mixture. Therapists should not shame or judge you, instead of fostering an area of acceptance and comfort. That being said, therapy is not the same as friendship.
For example, therapists should challenge you, even when it is something difficult, or hard to hear. They should help you get out of your comfort zone without pushing too hard. Your therapist should care about your well-being, and start the conversation about how you think therapy is going.
Through the course of your therapy, it is common for your goals to evolve. What you believed was the issue at the beginning may have been resolved, or you may have discovered that it is more (or less) than you originally thought.
If you are concerned about your therapy, take a moment to think about areas related to your symptoms and areas related to the quality of your daily life. If either of those has improved, that is a good sign that your therapy is progressing well. If you still have doubts, go to your therapist with your concerns.