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Why do I feel worse after starting therapy?

Most people think of therapy as a place you go when you want to feel better. But if you expect therapy to be purely positive and restorative, you might experience some frustration when you start.

Your expectations might also be high because of the effort it takes to find the right therapist: after all that work, you’d better get your money’s worth and start feeling those positive effects right away, right? Well, not so fast. The truth is, you probably won’t feel amazing right away, especially if you’re starting therapy for the very first time — in fact, it’s normal to feel a little worse after you start seeing a therapist.

Starting therapy

So what gives? Does that mean therapy is a waste of time?

Far from it. Having a bit of a rough time at the start of treatment can actually be a healthy part of the process. Here are a few reasons that it might be a sign that you’re actually on the right track.

1. You don’t suddenly have more problems, you’re just getting better at seeing them.

One key benefit of therapy is gaining some insight into what’s not working in your life — which could be anything from a pattern in your relationship to a core belief about your self-worth. In some ways, this insight is great: you can finally see what’s holding you back! But it can also be rough: suddenly you can see how you might be sabotaging yourself, but that doesn’t mean you know how to change things.

It can be scary to take inventory of a problem before you know how you’re going to solve it, but developing that new way of seeing is a crucial first step. And if you’re used to maintaining a stiff upper lip and trying not to complain, you may be surprised at what comes up once you have a space to be honest about how you’re feeling.

Just remember that you can’t address something you’re not aware of. And if you start to feel overwhelmed, remember to keep your therapist in the loop. They should be able to help you set manageable goals and keep the pace of therapy feeling good.

It takes time

2. It takes a lot of practice to build a new skill — including emotional skills.

Many of the frameworks and habits that people come into therapy wanting to change are years in the making. If you’ve ever tried to establish a new habit (like flossing or exercising) you know that it often takes a lot of attempts.

So it’s no wonder that it’s going to take some time to change something that you may have spent your whole life doing.

Similarly to building muscle through exercise, that effort may take time and cause some (emotional) soreness.

Building trust

3. Change is uncomfortable but necessary for healing.

Have you ever had a splinter and ignored it, hoping the dull ache would just go away? Maybe you tried to put it out of your mind and almost got used to that background throbbing. If you got your nerve up to grab it with a pair of tweezers, it probably hurt more than leaving it alone, but it would have been the only way to get it out.

Going to therapy is kind of like gripping that splinter. Getting at the root can be painful, especially if you’re new to exploring your emotions. But as you build trust with your therapist and keep practicing this vulnerability, all kinds of growth will become possible.

Final takeaways for anyone starting therapy

Getting started with a therapist can be an important component of addressing stress, depression, anxiety, grief, relationship issues, social isolation, or any number of issues. But it does take some work, especially in the beginning.

Keep checking in with your therapist about how your sessions are feeling, and let them know if you’re feeling worse, and especially if your mood takes a nosedive.

That said, don’t be afraid to trust your gut — while it’s normal to have some ups and downs at the start of therapy, you should feel empowered to give your therapist feedback or even transfer to a different therapist if you don’t feel heard or respected.

Next Steps

Just remember, therapy isn’t always supposed to feel great. What matters is whether it helps you grow in the directions you want to grow.

If you are interested in starting therapy, contact Well Clinic today to schedule a free consultation.

Therapy Consult in San Francisco, CA

About the Author

Sofia Escudero is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist at Well Clinic in San Francisco. According to Sofia, “Getting to the root of a problem takes work, but you don’t have to do it alone.”

“I have helped adults of all ages work towards a variety of goals, including building self-compassion, addressing the impacts of trauma, practicing new ways of communicating, finding community, and accessing greater joy in life. In my work with queer and trans clients, I’ve supported explorations of gender identity and sexuality, and all the feelings that can come up around that.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT SOFIA & BOOK AN APPOINTMENT

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Links to sources/resources:

https://www.talkspace.com/blog/why-you-might-feel-bad-or-worse-after-therapy/

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-does-it-take-to-form-a-habit#tips-and-tricks

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/01/well/mind/how-to-give-your-therapist-feedback.html

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