It is a commonly asked question: how long do I need to be in therapy before I start feeling better?
If you're going to make the investment of time and money, you likely want to know when therapy is going to start working. Is it right away? After a few sessions?
When I take medicine for a headache I typically don’t have a timer set to check when the medicine is supposed to kick in. I simply trust that the medicine says it is going to do what the bottle is going to do. Eventually the headache goes away.
The journey to mental and emotional health is nothing like taking medicine for a headache. There is no bottle we can read that tells us when to expect results.
And what do the results of being in therapy look like, anyway? They look more abstract than the results of taking an aspirin for a headache. Getting “better” through therapy work may mean that you respond to someone kindly instead of with anger. It may mean that you are able to go to your family thanksgiving without a meltdown. It may mean that you are able to have a difficult conversation or respond well to bad news.
The hard thing about mental health is that there isn't typically a specific moment where we feel “better.” The change can be gradual and we may wake up one morning realizing that we’ve been feeling different for a while. But the results are rarely immediate.
Making positive changes in our lives is a little bit like standing in the shower waiting for it to warm up. You don’t notice the gradual change in temperature as much as you notice when it is finally hot.
Though there is not a specific time frame to “feeling better,” there are ways to know if you are making progress. Consider keeping a journal of your emotions so you can track progress over time. Ask a trusted friend or family member if it seems from the outside like you are doing better. Work with your therapist to set measurable goals to track the progress you’ve made.
You are capable of change and of coming to a place of peace concerning your emotional health. Don’t be discouraged if progress doesn’t look how you feel like it should. Be present through the process and trust yourself. Feeling like you aren’t making progress doesn’t indicate that it is time to give up. Instead, take this as a sign to check in with yourself and others.