The difficulty in measuring how much change you experience in your therapy is that after a while any new changes become the baseline against which all future improvement is measured.
Unless you are encouraged to track your progress from the beginning of counseling you could easily dismiss the positive effects of your treatment.
You may be seriously underestimating a good thing.
For the most part, personal change happens incrementally. If you're not paying attention you'll miss those moments when it occurs. As a result, you may seriously underestimate the progress you've made since you began counseling!
Why is this?
It has everything to do with the structure of the brain!
Let me explain.
The nervous system is in a constant state of modulation as it adjusts to our inner and outer environments. This allows us to adapt quickly (a useful talent if there are a lot of saber-toothed tigers roaming around).
This adaptation is constant and seamless, so much so that within a short period of time you lose touch with the prior state. The brain has adapted and a different baseline, or equilibrium, has been established. This new state is now the 'norm'.
You see, your progress in counseling is neither linear nor predictable.
Recall the last time you felt really physically sick.
Maybe your muscles were achy, you were exhausted, and you generally felt like hell. I bet once you started to feel better the memory of how bad it was started to get foggier and foggier.
Here's how the structure of the brain fits in. Feeling sick is a physiological state. Once you are no longer ill, it is difficult to re-experience the sensations of this former state.
You may remember saying to yourself that you don't ever want to feel that way again but you cannot artificially recreate the state of feeling sick. Your health is now the 'norm'.
So how does this relate to tracking your progress?
Imagine you're a client in counseling.
Let's say after months of incremental progress in therapy you experience a dramatic shift within yourself after one of your sessions. You feel differently.
Maybe it no longer bothers you to ask a stranger for directions. Maybe you find yourself feeling more connected with others. Maybe your world feels a bit larger. No matter how it happens for you personally, something has shifted for the better.
Nonetheless, in a few days this feeling of a more expanded self starts to fade. Within a couple weeks you no longer remember how you used to feel - before the change.
The contrast between how you used to be and how you are now has disappeared.
The change in your behaviour or experience however has not. You know this because something new has been incorporated into your life.
For example, you still feel comfortable asking a stranger for directions. You've held onto that new you and now it feels like you've always been this way.
How can this happen?
The baseline has shifted. As noted above, you measure any change from the most recent state you were in. As it changes, so do you and you may not be aware of the incremental shifts. Neither have they been linear or predictable.
The processing has been non-conscious...almost as if you were the last to know.
The 'new you' has been a work in progress!
So, why does therapy get a bad rap?
Well, if you don't take time to regularly reflect on the small changes you've made, you'll seriously underestimate the power of therapy to change you. In fact, you may ditch therapy altogether in the mistaken belief it's not helping
You see, it's the small changes that add up over time that contribute to making the big shifts in how you feel.
Ready for Therapy?
By the way, one of the advantages on online therapy - both email and chat counseling - is that it gives you a record of your session. That way, you have a running log to refer to that will reinforce what insights and new learning you've achieved.
In "What's the hardest part about being a therapist? I explain how change happens in little moments during the course of your counseling.