Therapeutic Relationship

Am I Supposed to Feel Worse After Therapy?

A friend recently posted to Facebook the following question:


Of course, as with so many things in the life, the answer is "it depends". I responded that therapy can absolutely make you feel bad. You can leave your therapist feeling worse than you felt when you went in. I've had clients tell me that sometimes they're pretty much useless for the rest of the day after therapy. What I hear in these instances is that THERAPY IS WORKING. Sometimes you know it's working because it elicits feelings you don't want to feel; feelings you've been burying so long you didn't even know you had them. 

People tend to have an idea of what therapy is. You go in, sit on the comfy couch, unload all your thoughts and feelings, and leave feeling better. Sometimes therapy is exactly that. And there's also the truth that doesn't make its way into the popular conception of therapy: THERAPY IS WORK. Therapy can leave you exhausted. Therapy can make you feel run-down, depleted, and needing alone time. So yes, therapy can make you feel worse. And sometimes you have to feel worse before you can feel better.

That said, I told my friend that if it were the therapist that was stressing them out, it may be time to talk to the therapist about that. If you find yourself going in to therapy worried about what the therapist thinks, or anxious about how the therapist will respond to what you have to say, that's an indication that the therapy needs adjustment. My friend responded, "yeah, it may be time to go therapist shopping". I encouraged my friend to do that, but also to discuss it with their therapist. The therapeutic relationship mimics relationships in real life, and this is a perfect opportunity for the client to practice having a conversation that starts, "This isn't working". Because those are conversations that come up in the real world and what a perfect opportunity to practice!