What if I feel worse after a therapy session and not better?

By Jasmine Payne, Resident in Counseling

Therapy is hard work. It is rewarding but sometimes it can be overwhelming, sometimes it is frustrating, and sometimes it is sad. The quote “it gets worse before it gets better” seems applicable here. Re-training your brain, healing trauma, and unlearning unhealthy coping mechanisms are not simple tasks. And while we (counselors) hope the result at the end is a better quality of life, the process can be painful. We understand. We hear you.

So… what can you do for yourself after a particularly tough session?

Give yourself time to digest what just happened. 

Make sure you use that 10-15 minutes following your session to go over what occurred in the therapy space. What felt difficult? What felt relieving? And what do you need from yourself right now?

Tune into your physical being. 

Does your chest feel tight? Is your mind racing? Is your breathing elevated? A five-minute mindful body scan can help you slow down your breath and pinpoint where you are feeling tense or tender. (Close your eyes, focus on deep breathing, and slowly focus your attention on major body parts from your head to your toes)

Get outside. 

If the weather and time of day permits – go outdoors. Sunshine, fresh air, and nature are natural remedies for just about anything.

Grab your journal. 

Process, write down your counselor’s words of wisdom, note your realizations, or start your homework.  Unpack or document how this session impacted you in detail.

Engage in self-soothing. 

This looks different for everyone. What activities bring you joy and/or peace? Meditation, tea, lighting a candle, breathing, comfort items, exercising, music, mindful coloring, or taking a hot shower are all viable options.

What to avoid: shutting down your feelings, giving up, distracting or avoiding your thoughts, telling whoever you talked about in therapy what you learned about their wrongdoings, going down a Netflix/Youtube/TikTok wormhole. These may be easier in the short-term, but they are not conducive to your progress.

Therapy is beautiful and it is challenging. It is a form of self-care but as we have previously stated, ripping that Band-Aid off or taking personal responsibility can hurt. Handle yourself with care and compassion as you prepare to use your new discoveries to aid in your healing journey.

Peace and love!

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