Rabbi Azriel Hauptman
“Why am I not making progress?” This is the question you are possibly asking yourself after spending some time in therapy. When therapy is working you will find improvements in your mood, behaviors, relationships, and life satisfaction. What if you haven’t seen these improvements yet? On the one hand, breakthroughs in therapy rarely happen overnight and it can sometimes be a process that takes time. On the other hand, you are definitely entitled to understand when you should expect progress to occur. In this article, we will provide some information that will hopefully make it a little easier for you to understand the trajectory of your personal journey in therapy.
Clear Goals: Having clear goals in therapy is a great way to monitor progress. Even if the goals are small, it is a clear sign that you are heading in the right direction. Very often, there is a constellation of problems that one is struggling with and picking a small aspect to use as a litmus test for progress can be very helpful. For example, if one of the issues is one’s temper, monitoring the frequency of outbursts can be informative. As a goal is reached, you can move on to another one, and so on and so forth.
Homework: Many forms of therapy involve a variety of suggestions that you are asked to implement at home. Everyone’s situation is different and not every suggestion is realistic. For example, mothers with little children will not be able to start their day with half an hour of mindfulness meditation. It is imperative that you are honest with your therapist that you are not following through with his or her suggestions. This will allow your therapist to custom-tailor their approach to your personal situation.
Lack of Disclosure: Anything that you are withholding from your therapist will greatly limit your therapist’s ability to help you progress. It is quite understandable that you might need time to feel comfortable to make a very sensitive and private disclosure. Sometimes, this is the result of a fear of being vulnerable. Disclosing personal information to your therapist requires opening yourself up in ways that you would only do with your closest confidants. However, the things you do to avoid vulnerability ends up causing you more pain than vulnerability itself.
Fear of Change: Believe it or not, you might be subconsciously afraid to make progress. People feel very comfortable in their comfort zone, and we are hardwired to try to avoid anything that is scary. Emotional wellbeing may be an entirely new vista of life that is unfamiliar and, on a certain level, scary. As much as you are desperate to escape your present unhappiness, that does not mean that you are not simultaneously resisting. This is like someone standing at the edge of a pool and watching everyone happily frolicking in the water. You might be scared to jump in knowing that it will take a few moments to get adjusted to the new temperature. Indeed, our brains work in very strange ways!
Shidduch: There can be times when you are seeing an excellent therapist who is just not the right person for you. This can be due to a wide variety of reasons. Perhaps your therapist does not have sufficient expertise in your specific issue. Maybe the two of you are not “clicking”. It might just not be a Shidduch, and you would see better results with someone else. If you trust your therapist, feel free to ask this question to your therapist directly.
Therapy does not always have a concrete ending point as we all have our emotional ups and downs. Nevertheless, the role of therapy is to bring us to a better place and we call that progress. Therapy is the train, not the station.