With such a vague and opaque process as therapy, how do you know it’s working? As a couples therapist, it is usually easy to spot. Clients will report that their relationship is getting healthier. They are happier. Their relationship has improved. Conversely, sometimes the outcome of therapy is not always what you had planned, but difficult decisions get made. While it may not be the progress you hoped, you are making movement.
However, how can you spot if therapy isn't working?
Sign #1. Clear, precise goals.
It is imperative that you and your therapist have well thought out goals for therapy. This happens usually at the onset of therapy. Questions like, “If you were to wake up tomorrow and all of your problems were to be gone, how would you know? What would be different? How would you feel? What would you notice?” Without a clear goal list, it is easy to get lost in the maze of therapy and also not realize the progress you’ve made.
Sign #2. Monitoring your goals.
You and your therapist should continue to check in on your goals. Questions such as, “are we reaching our goals and if not, what is standing in the way?” By reviewing your goals, you are able to see if you’re making progress. Also, your therapist will notice things you may have missed, which can be tremendously helpful in realizing if therapy is helpful or not.
Not reaching your goals?
Talking to your therapist about the fact that you’re not reaching your goals is important. While there are a number or reasons why clients don’t reach their goals, the biggest one to review is what is called “therapeutic fit.” Sometimes the therapist you choose, whether it’s a personality style or their approach, simply doesn’t match up with your style. A well-seasoned therapist will completely understand, and if anything, help you with appropriate referrals or resources.
Did you reach your goals?
If you are reporting happiness or satisfaction with the outcome of therapy, for many, ending therapy is the next move. What many clients don’t realize is that they can always return to therapy, at any time. Whether it is with their previous therapist or a new one, the door is always open.
Sign #3. In general, do you find therapy helpful?
While every session might not be earth moving, therapy in general, should be helpful to you. If you find that you are learning about yourself, making different decisions than you would have in the past, gaining new skills and resources, or feeling a marked improvement in your life, then therapy sounds beneficial. However, just like anything, it is an investment, both from a monetary stance as well as an emotional one. Discovering when you need to start therapy or end therapy is always up to you.
-- Erika Boissiere, MFT is a the founder of TRISF, and a relationship and individual therapist in San Francisco, CA.