What Are the Effects of Therapy?

Stressed black man explaining his problems to psychologist at individual therapy session at office, copy space

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Most people are aware that therapy can help treat mental health issues, life stress, and various diagnoses. Therapy is a specific treatment that is different from “venting” or talking to friends or family. For some, therapy is used in conjunction with psychotropic medication to treat a diagnosed disorder.

You might have an idea of what therapy is or what a session looks like, but many are still hesitant to start treatment because they do not know what to expect.

This article discusses what your therapeutic experience might be like from what to look for when searching for a therapist to gaining a new perspective about yourself and your life.

Finding a Therapist

It can be challenging to find a therapist who treats your presenting concerns, takes your method of payment, and is someone you feel comfortable talking to. You also need to find a therapist whose theoretical orientation is a good match for your needs. It is OK to see more than one therapist before you find the person who is the best fit for your needs.

Therapeutic Alliance

The most important component of therapy is the “therapeutic alliance” or fit. Essentially, you must feel a strong connection to your therapist and be able to trust them. Sometimes this means that their personality or mannerisms need to be a good match for you. It can also mean that the therapist must understand your cultural background and life experience.

Therapeutic fit can relate to the therapist’s credentials, but it can also be a gut instinct that tells you whether this person is someone you trust and can connect with.

It can take a couple of sessions to determine fit. If the therapist is not a good fit, they should have information about other therapists to whom they can refer you.

You Might Feel Worse Before You Feel Better

It often surprises people to learn that they might feel worse before they start to feel better in therapy. Often, people coming to therapy have feelings that are unresolved or feelings that they have been ignoring for a long time. Ignoring a problem might feel better in the short term but have long-term consequences.

Imagine that you have a scrape on your arm, and you know you need to clean the wound so that it can heal properly. The alcohol wipe is going to sting a lot, but it is what you need to do in order to heal. Early therapy is like cleaning out that wound so that it can heal.

Therapy May Be Exhausting

In your sessions, you will dig into feelings that you might have previously pushed down. You might bring up memories that you have not thought about for a very long time. Exploring these things for the first time can be exhausting, and it helps to be prepared for this.

Be aware of your schedule, and try to have therapy sessions on days that you are not as busy or when you do not have a lot to do after your session. Have a plan for self-care after your appointments, and try to engage in ongoing self-care in your everyday life. Your therapist should have suggestions for how to create a self-care plan that fits your unique needs.

Additionally, be aware of your stress levels, and be open with your therapist about how you feel after sessions. This will help your therapist pace your treatment to keep you from getting overwhelmed. Therapists want you to progress at a healthy pace, and your therapist can make adjustments to how they structure your sessions and your treatment plan based on this important feedback.

Your Relationships Might Be Affected

Therapy is a transformative process by its nature. You will change and grow as you go on this journey, which might impact your relationships with other people. This can happen for multiple reasons.

Boundaries are important for healthy relationships as well as individual self-care. Many people struggle because they do not know how to say “no” or do not feel able to set healthy boundaries. In therapy, you might learn how to set these boundaries.

People who are not used to your boundaries might struggle with these new expectations in your relationship.

Therapy might help you develop stronger insight into your relationships, causing you to identify toxic or abusive behavior that you had not previously noticed or labeled this way before. This might cause you to re-evaluate people’s place in your life.

Your therapy cannot change the other people in your life. The only person that you can change is you. However, these changes might cause you to make shifts in the relationships in your life.

You will change and grow as you go on this journey, which might impact your relationships with other people.

You Might Remember Things in a Different Light

Memory is a tricky thing. We can remember things differently over time, or we can suddenly recall something we had previously forgotten. We can even change memories based on how we think about or re-live them.

On your therapy journey, you might experience a strong reaction to something you had previously thought was insignificant. For example, when we are children, we do not have a basis of comparison for our experiences. You might look back and realize that something that was “just part of life” at the time was actually traumatic.

As you look back on your history, you might process things in a new way, which can bring up strong feelings you did not experience before. Be prepared to sit with these feelings and re-experience things with this new insight.

You can even experience new feelings about traumas that you had already processed. As we grow, our perspective changes, and we might have to re-process things that have already been addressed. This means that, even if you have been in therapy before, it might be beneficial to visit these memories again if they are interfering with your functioning.

A Word From Verywell

Starting therapy may seem stressful. Change is difficult and challenging, but it is worth it to improve your mental health and become the best version of yourself. Look into referral options in your area and find a therapist that is a good fit for your needs and preferences, and take the first steps on your mental health journey.

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2 Sources
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  1. Ardito RB, Rabellino D. Therapeutic alliance and outcome of psychotherapy: historical excursus, measurements, and prospects for research. Front Psychology. 2011;2.

  2. Tielman ML, Neerincx MA, Bidarra R, Kybartas B, Brinkman WP. A therapy system for post-traumatic stress disorder using a virtual agent and virtual storytelling to reconstruct traumatic memories. J Med Syst. 2017;41(8):125.