You might be in therapy for a while and then begin to wonder is it helping? Or am I making progress at all? This can be a question that can pop up and make you wonder if it is making a difference. I find most clients I see struggle at times to see their progress in certain areas and goals but often they are not giving themselves credit for small changes they are making and smaller increments towards their goals.
I also find many people minimize their progress and say things like “its only a small amount” or “I’m not where I want to be.” Just remember a journey cannot be started without taking the first small step. I love the picture I am posting here, it shows how small steps are what gets the ball rolling and can accumulate over time. If you reach for a goal that is unrealistic and too high, it might be out of reach without taking small steps first. This a way to leave yourself frustrated and hopeless. I have also seen clients who don’t recognize or give any credit towards small steps but after six months are really seeing the progress they have made as the steps accumulate.
Progress can come in many forms: (this is not an exhaustive list but just some examples)
1) Noticing that you are less reactive in previously very triggering situations. Maybe you would always snap when your Mom criticized you for making a mistake but this time you noticed you were able to pause and react in a calm manger.
2) Your inner critic doesn’t have quite the hold over you anymore, its voice is quieter and not there as often. You may also notice that your relationship with your inner critic has changed, maybe softened some.
3) You are more accepting of your emotions, thoughts and where you are in life. Acceptance is difficult to fully integrate but when you do you do feel a lightness and reduce your overall suffering.
4) You are able to use more self-compassion in your self-talk. You are beating yourself up less and can speak kinder to yourself, validating yourself and reminding yourself that your thoughts and emotions are normal and everyone feels this way at times.
5) You are able to notice your unhelpful thoughts, be able to challenge them and reframe them to more helpful thinking on your own.
6) You develop more awareness of your bodily sensations, can name your emotions and are aware of behaviors that are taking you off track.
7) You can name multiple ways of coping with difficult days or strong emotions and are utilizing them when you need them.
8) You have developed some helpful practices like mindfulness, yoga or meditation that when used consistently are helping you to stay more emotionally regulated (these are just examples of some helpful practices if you have others they count too!)
9) Prior trauma triggers are no longer triggering for you, they don’t hold the same amount of strong emotion and you can reflect calmly on what has come up for you.
10) You are able to sit with your emotions, let them run their course and allow your self to feel and rarely repress or push down difficult feelings.
I really got the ball rolling as I started to reflect on what are the milestones for recognizing when you are making progress in therapy. There are so many and this is a general list, just know that if I didn’t mention how you have made progress its not to minimize yours at all! There are individual differences in how everyone makes progress and it varies base don your individual needs and personal challenges. All I can say is be patient with process and be gentle with yourself. Change is hard for everyone and our brains resist any changes with our thinking, our relationships with others (or ourselves!) and any changes in behavior. It can take some time for healing to occur but the time investment and positive results that follow are well worth it.
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