Sometimes things get worse before they get better, and in therapy, it is a normal part of the process.
While it is true that many people start feeling better as soon as they make contact with a therapist, it’s a common misconception in therapy that once you start actually working through your issues that you will keep feeling better and better every time you attend a session.
Instead, often times people report feeling a little bit worse in the early stages of treatment and sometimes symptoms can even increase for a short period of time.
This sometimes leads people to stop services before any real progress happens and they don’t get to see the other side of the mountain where their symptoms start to reduce and the real healing begins.
With my clients I often use this example to explain the process:
Starting therapy is like visiting a doctor to care for an injury. Regardless of how old or new the injury is, the process is the same, but the level of discomfort can vary.
First, the doctor will assess the injury by examining the wound, listening about how it happened, and learning about how you have been treating it in the meantime. Next, the doctor will develop a plan to treat the injury.
Similarly, a therapist will complete the initial assessment and explore current and past symptoms, previous attempts at resolving symptoms, and develop a treatment plan moving forward.
The next step means caring for the injury. Sometimes this means opening up and exploring the wound and finding ways to help clear out the debris that may be preventing it from healing.
In therapy, this phase can involve exploring old emotional wounds, providing empathy as the client processes their trauma or distress, and chipping away at previous patterns that prevented them from healing in the first place.
This is often the painful part of the process where clients report feeling worse. But fear not, this phase typically does not last long and it does get better with time. As therapists, we are gentle in our approaches and will regularly check in to monitor your threshold for processing your feelings. We will be watching for signs of distress and helping you work through it all at a pace that is right for you.
With a physical injury, once the wound is clean and treated, the bandaging process begins. Initially, the doctor may see the patient more often to help change the bandage and continue routine care and cleaning. As it heals, the patient needs less and less maintenance until eventually there is only scar left behind.
In therapy, sessions usually begin on a weekly basis and over time may reduce to less frequent sessions as the client improves.
At some point, with proper treatment, your emotional wounds will begin to heal. And just like a physical injury, emotional trauma will sometimes result in wounds that leave little or no trace behind, while others may leave large scars.
While the pain of the original injury has been relieved, many of us still feel the sting of the pain when we see these scars or when others notice them as well. It is important to remember that our scars are part of us and they are proof that we survived.
No one makes it through this life unscathed and with the right help we can all feel better with time.
So don’t let the discomfort keep you from getting the help you need. And remember to trust that it is all part of the healing process.