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Making Progress in Therapy

How long does it take to see results in therapy?

Therapy experiences are subjective and it can take time to see results; however, while you can’t expect to accomplish all of your therapy goals overnight, you should see some level of progress after about three sessions.

Sometimes, a therapist will impart skills you can use immediately after your first session; other times, you’ll have an almost surreal, insightful, lightbulb moment in session number ten after you’ve learned how to tap into your inner wisdom. Therapy involves goal setting, problem solving, identifying and shifting patterns of thought and behavior, and, hopefully, reaching one or multiple resolutions over time. Effective therapists check in with clients to ensure they're making progress.

Why does it take time for therapy to work?

It takes time to see results in therapy because ingrained habits and interpersonal patterns aren’t quick to change. A lot of the healing that happens in therapy occurs over time through the therapeutic relationship, and as you build new and more positive neural connections. Much growth will unfold throughout the course of therapy, but how long that takes depends on what you’re looking to get out of your therapy experience and the timeline you establish with your therapist.

How do I assess whether I'm making progress?

While milestones will differ by your therapy goals, timeline, readiness for change, and life circumstances, below are some ways people measure progress in therapy and improvements in their mental health:

  • I feel symptom relief when I’m in the therapist’s office and in between sessions

  • I’ve learned a tangible skill for my mental wellbeing that I use in my daily life

  • I gained a useful insight into why I’m feeling a certain way or the experiences I’m having

  • I feel less guilty about mistakes I’ve made and am more able to forgive others

  • I’m more hopeful about the future

What should I do if I’m not making progress in therapy?

If you feel you're not making progress after three sessions, you can let your therapist know and discuss changes to your treatment, or politely tell them it's not working and move on.

Telling your therapist it’s not going to work can feel like breaking up with someone, but therapists are professionals and it is part of their profession to put your wellbeing first. While it can feel exhausting to start with a new therapist, recognize that most people see two or more therapists before finding a great fit. If it doesn’t work out with the first therapist, don’t give up on therapy altogether!

What will my therapist say if I tell them I'm not making progress?

If you feel like you’re not making progress or realize you’re not ready for therapy, excellent therapists will change your treatment plan, refer you to another provider, suggest an adjunct type of treatment (such as art therapy, medications, acupuncture, yoga, etc.), or be open to pausing therapy while keeping the door open for you to return when you’re ready. Therapists who place their clients first are open to feedback on what is working and what isn’t, and may proactively check in on progress towards goals, too.