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How to Know You Are Making Progress in Therapy

Updated: May 25, 2023

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Sometimes people come to therapy with very specific goals, like managing panic attacks or navigating an eating disorder. Others come to our counseling practice because they find benefit in having a safe place to talk through various challenges in their life or are simply needing a safe place to check in on their mental health. My experience is that most people come to therapy somewhere in between with a more general goal, like wanting to work through past trauma, improve relationships, or manage general anxiety or stress, as just a few examples. When there is a broader goal, it can occasionally be hard to pin down what progress looks like if you are not sure what to look for.

As an Atlanta therapist who views people holistically, I believe progress can show up in a variety of ways, that may not be initially obvious. It also is occasionally hard to see the progress when you are in the middle of growth until you pause and look around.

These are just a few signs that you are making progress:

Decreased physical ailments

It is no secret that our mental and physical health are deeply interconnected. Anxiety, trauma, and depression can often manifest themselves in difficulty sleeping, stomach and GI issues, and chronic tension or inflammation. Noticing increased calmness in your body is a great sign that your mental health is improving. Progress could mean decreased bloating, better sleep, or simply feeling more physically relaxed.

Responding instead of reacting

The progress of therapy often happens in small moments when you find yourself responding to a situation differently than you would before. Before you become aware of how your feelings are impacting your thoughts and behaviors, it is easy to simply react. Therapy helps you connect with your emotional experience and respond in new, more beneficial ways. This change can be as small as realizing you have started taking a few deep breaths when you noticed you are stressed or taking a break from an argument with your spouse when you are aware you’ve become overwhelmed. These moments of responding instead of reacting build on each other and are empowering when you begin to recognize them.

Able to do things that you were not able to do before therapy

A lot of people come to therapy in Smyrna when they realize that their mental health is preventing them from being able to do the things in life they want to. Those struggling with depression might notice that they have more motivation or are finding greater enjoyment in life. Those struggling with anxiety might notice that they can do things that were previously too anxiety-inducing. It can be easy to overlook these small wins along the way to a bigger goal, but noting small accomplishments can be motivating to keep going.

Improved relationships with others

Improved relationships with others can manifest in a variety of different ways. You might notice that you are feeling more comfortable around people and that your social anxiety has decreased. You might notice that you are able to set boundaries in situations that need them with reduced anxiety than you had previously. You might notice that you are more excited to be around people and are having more fun or more meaningful conversations. You might notice that you can identify red flags or more easily identify safe versus unsafe people. Regardless of your goals in therapy, a greater connection with others is always a worthwhile reward.

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Greater self-awareness

One of the largest rewards of therapy is gaining a greater understanding of yourself. Not every session is going to have that proverbial “Ah, ha!” moment. Progress will look like an increased grasp on the life events that have shaped who you are, the motivations behind certain behaviors, and awareness of patterns that keep popping up in your life. This awareness is so important because you cannot change something that you are not aware of. It can also help you be gentler to yourself as you can see something that I deeply believe to be true: everyone makes sense in the context of their own story. Knowledge gives you the power to become an author of your own story instead of just being swept along by a false narrative.

Ability to sit with emotions

Emotions can be scary for a variety of reasons. They can be intense and uncomfortable, or it could be that you did not grow up in an environment that modeled emotion regulation. Therapy teaches you the skills to regulate intense feelings and an increased ability to notice them when they arise. A common message that I communicate to my clients is that feelings need to be felt. Learning to accept and be gentle with yourself when you experience a wide variety of emotions is huge progress.

Greater ability to cope with triggers

There are often specific people, events, or instances that cause more stress than others. I often define a trigger as an event that sets off a historical emotion that is not accurate to the current situation. For example, you might notice that you start to panic when your significant other is not texting you back quickly. Logically, there are a lot of reasons that they might not be responding like they are busy at work or their phone died. However, your previous significant other was not faithful in the relationship, so you start to imagine the worst-case scenario.

Knowing that you are making progress could look like using a coping skill to calm your body, assessing if your new partner is displaying emotionally safe patterns of behavior, and then being able to go about your day until they are free again. Managing triggers will look different based on your history and your specific treatment goals, but we hope that you will start to be able to be in the present and enjoy life more fully.

Deepening spiritual relationship

An important relationship that I have not previously discussed is your relationship with God. Because we are interconnected people, our spiritual relationship can often be impacted by struggles with mental health. Greater connectivity and a stronger relationship with God can be worked on in counseling or might be a natural by-product of the work you are doing with your therapist. I often find that my clients can find greater sense of purpose and are more able to accept God’s love and grace, regardless of their original goals for therapy.

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One of my favorite quotes regarding progress is from Winston Churchill. He said,

“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path.”

It is a gentle reminder to me that progress is a journey that is often taken in steps, not leaps and bounds. Every step is worthy of noticing and celebrating on the way toward your end goal.

If You Want to Make Progress Start Therapy in Smyrna, GA

Have you tried therapy before and you didn't feel like you made progress? Have you never tried therapy but you have goals for improving your mental health? Either way Remain Connected Counseling can help you with therapy in Smyrna, GA. Get started with one of our caring therapists by following these steps:

  1. Contact us and tell us about your goals for counseling

  2. Start therapy that is tailored to your mental health needs

  3. Begin to feel better as you make progress

Therapy Services Our Counselors Offer in Smyrna, GA

Our understanding Atlanta therapists offer a variety of services to help you meet your therapy goals. Such as teen counseling, marriage counseling, and Pastoral care. Along with life transitions support, Christian counseling, and more! You can also get support for your relationship with marriage counseling. With online therapy, these services are available to anyone in Georgia. We look forward to supporting hearing from you.

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