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Recovering from a mental illness is awful. It feels like it is taking forever, and there is no set timeframe for when you will be healed. There is no date on the calendar for when you can leave therapy, so you cannot count down the days to recovery like you could eagerly await the day the cast comes off. With mental health, you improve immeasurably for a week and then fall back to what feels like square one for no apparent reason. You take one step forward and two steps back. You want to believe you are getting better, but there is no easy check. Although you can look at a physical wound and see that it is getting smaller, that is much harder to do when you are dealing with a mental injury. Your therapist may have told you that you are improving, but are they just mollifying you? Take a moment to do a mental inventory of your life since you started therapy, and see if you have any of these six signs that therapy is actually working. The odds are that you have at least one.

You are less nervous about attending therapy sessions.

Therapy by its very nature is scary. You have to trust a complete stranger with your darkest secrets and the humiliating habits you have turned your life upside down trying to hide. To get better, you have to lay your soul bare which is something that does not come naturally for most people. As such, you might well start out dreading your appointments. As you improve, however, you begin to realize that therapy really is helping you. When that happens, you stop dreading the therapy sessions since you know they are essential to your recovery.

You had a resurgence of bad habits. 

It seems counterintuitive, but a resurgence of bad habits can actually be a good sign. Humans generally hate change, even when it is necessary. On some subconscious level, you want to keep the status quo even when it is damaging. So, you have to continue battling old problems. Normally, people manage to mostly beat their bad habits only for them to return with a vengeance. When your mental health is improving, your old habits and thought patterns may make one final attempt at holding on to your life. Do not give up when you start backsliding. Keep pushing through. 

Joy is filtering back into your life.

One of the most common symptoms of mental illnesses, such as depression, is anhedonia. This is the inability to derive pleasure from activities the person used to enjoy. So, someone who is struggling with anxiety or depression may no longer enjoy fixing up their car even though they used to be an unrepentant, gleeful grease monkey. A person with a mood disorder who used to love to sing may have stopped even listening to music. When your mental health begins to improve, these things begin to bring you joy once again. Often, you begin to enjoy those old pleasurable activities more than you did in the first place. It is not unlike how food tastes better than ever after you get over the flu.

Your relationships with others are improving.

People who are struggling with mental illness often find themselves struggling with their relationships with others. You may have pushed your friends and family away deliberately, or you might have simply drifted apart. It could also be that your relationships did not worsen, but they stagnated rather than continuing to grow and improve.  As you get healthier mentally, you will notice that you are better able to develop and maintain your relationships with others. Therapy helps you deal with the underlying causes for problematic or unhealthy behavior which in turn allows you to better relate to others. Your better relationships then help support you as you continue your therapy. This then allows you to improve your relationships even more and forms an upward spiral. 

Your overall health is improving. 

Mental illnesses take a toll on the physical body as well. Stomach aches are a common physical symptom of a mental ailment. Low energy is almost a given, and insomnia goes hand in hand with mental or emotional issues. As therapy helps your mental health improve, you may notice a difference in your physical health as well. Your immune system may improve, and you will stop catching endless colds from your coworkers. You are able to get a good night’s rest again. You have more energy and can focus for longer periods of time. Such physical recovery is a good sign that therapy is helping you overcome your issues in the mental and emotional realm. 

You can apply what you are learning.

As you continue to improve, you will find yourself applying what you learned in therapy on your own. The little tricks and tips that your therapist always harped on are actually making their way into your daily life. You might imagine your therapist’s disappointed face when you get ready to make a bad decision, so you walk away instead. You might practically hear your therapist’s voice helping you to fight off your own brutal judgements of yourself. This is a good sign that therapy is helping you. You are internalizing the tools you need to overcome your challenges and learning to apply them without prompting. 

Unlike when a doctor puts in stiches and so immediately ends a wound’s bleeding, the healing effects of therapy are not always obvious. They take time to appear and are often subtle changes to a person’s emotional state or habits. The slow pace and small changes, however, do not mean that therapy is not working. In fact, the slow but steady improvement is far more likely to last than a sudden personality transplant. After all, it was the tortoise who won the race, not the hare. 

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