Beginning Therapy :: Sometimes You Feel Worse Before You Feel Better

You’ve finally found a therapist that you trust, you’re opening up, being honest about the parts of yourself and areas of your life that could use some help. You may actually feel better—validated, stronger and more confident. Someone finally “gets” you. There is some relief in feeling less alone with your problems. If you ask people new to therapy how they feel, you may get different responses. Many feel better, get some relief, and then stop therapy. Some individuals notice after they begin therapy that they feel worse than before. Therapists don’t advertise the latter, but they should tell you that psychotherapy and counseling can kick up some uncomfortable feelings and emotions, initially, and from time to time. You may also notice that your friends and family are not so delighted with the new YOU. This wasn’t supposed to happen, and it doesn’t always, but often, it does! It’s a pretty common occurrence when people begin to change as a result of therapy and those closest to you are less than delighted.

People liked you the way you were, and now you’ve made some changes. You’ve rewritten the script, so to speak. You may be more assertive, or communicate your needs more effectively. Heck, you may have expressed needs for the first time in your life. This is inconvenient for those invested in the old you.

Therapy has also helped you become more aware of some unhealthy dynamics and patterns that, for overdetermined reasons, you find yourself falling into, again and again. Those unhealthy relationships no longer work for you. You drift away or begin to protest or more directly share the things that no longer work for you. You can no longer tolerate the very things that were familiar to you before you began therapy.

You parter or spouse may complain that therapy is making you “worse” not better. Parents, family or friends find your need to individuate downright annoying and threatening. Any change to the status quo becomes a threat to the people in your life.

Successful therapy aims to make things like problem dynamics and habits, putting up with things that should make you run, toxic relationships, abuse of substances and many other patterns no longer comfortable. The technical term for this is “ego dystonic.” Now you may have lots of conflict everywhere, at work and in your relationships, and this is an uncomfortable place to be and navigate.

What’s different now?

  1. Therapy has taught you that you deserve respect and consideration. You put up with a lot less now. Even though it’s uncomfortable territory, the new you, you do like yourself better.

  2. Counseling has given you the permission to look at the areas of your life that need to change. Things that once mattered have less weight. Your values have changed or you may be reassessing what matters to you now, going forward. Your alliance with your therapist has provided the extra support, safety and encouragement to look deeper.

  3. Psychotherapy can help clients get in touch with emotions and feelings that they’ve been quite defended against previously. You’re opening up, as such, becoming more vulnerable and developing a richer capacity for connection and more satisfying relationships. You crave deeper relationships. Superficial relationships cause you more pain than ease. Perhaps you and your husband look great on paper, but you come to realize that some important things are lacking for you. Shallow no longer works for you.

  4. If you’ve struggled with substance abuse or addictions, and you’ve come to realize that your life is unmanageable, you may need to make some changes. Your friends may not be so good for you right now. Many of your relationships may have centered around drugs, alcohol and other unhealthy habits. Hopefully, you will find that some of your friends or family members are supportive of your changes. Good friends will support your new and healthier lifestyle.