Recognizing Progress During the Process

It can be difficult to realize the growth and progress you have had when you don’t perceive yourself as having “arrived” at the destination. While I’d argue that growth and development are lifelong processes, many people begin therapy with specific changes they would like to make; they have an end goal in mind, and it can get easy to dismiss or overlook the progress and changes that occur on the way to this end goal. So what are some things to look for?

1.     Frequency

Take an honest assessment of how often you are experiencing something as compared to when you began therapy. If your goal was to decrease the frequency of negative symptoms, are you noticing your symptoms less often? Remember, do not base your progress on whether the symptom has been completely eliminated. I often hear frustration from clients that a symptom is “still happening” or “still there”, despite tremendous strides they have made in decreasing symptoms.

2.     Intensity

The use of a scale can be really helpful in this assessment. Using a scale from 1-5, with 1 being little to no intensity of symptoms (i.e., not depressed at all), and 5 being the most intense (i.e., the most depressed you have ever been), where are you today? Do you notice that your symptoms are interfering less with your ability to engage in other tasks? Again, notice if any frustration at the fact that a symptom is still present is leading to you dismissing progress.

3.     Awareness

Are you more aware of emotions as they occur? Are you quicker to observe yourself engaging in a pattern of behavior? Even if your observation is still occurring after the event, does it occur sooner? Are you understanding the relationship between various emotional states, beliefs, and behavioral choices? This is a vital step in the change process!

4.     Sense of Control

Do you have moments when you feel back in control of your choices? When the amount of time between an event and your response to the event is drawn out and you are an active participant in how you respond? The experience of many is that reactions to emotions or events are automatic; therapy can support you in becoming more in control of and deliberate in how you respond.

5.     Window of Tolerance

Are you better able to tolerate uncomfortable emotions? You may start therapy with a low tolerance of sadness, anger, uncertainty, etc.; as you work in therapy to explore and understand emotions, it becomes easier to tolerate emotions as they arise. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily enjoy or look forward to these emotions, but that you are able to feel these emotions rather than numb or dismiss them.

6.     More Options

Do you have more coping skills, more ways of responding to stressors, or more perspectives? Can you try different things when a stressor arises?

Notice that none of these examples requires perfection or paints the picture of a completely symptom-free experience. Challenging situations, stressors, difficult emotions- these are part of life. If the goal is to never experience these again, well, I’m not sure how exactly to reach that. It is possible, however, to change your relationship with these parts of life, to reduce the impairment in your life, and to experience growth and progress.

To learn more or to book an appointment, contact me via telephone or email.

Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Valencia, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.