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Why You Might Feel Worse After Your Therapy Session

Whether if you just left your first session or have been speaking with a therapist for a some time, there will be times when you feel exhausted. Sometimes you may even feel worse.

Understandably, that can be frustrating. After all, isn’t therapy supposed to make you feel better?

Before giving up, you need to understand that this can be a normal occurrence. This is true following a deeply emotional session as it may awaken negative feelings or painful memories. In fact, researchers at NYU found that there is such a thing as an “emotional hangover.’

“Any time you delve into something deep or uncomfortable, it may lead you to tap into emotions that might be even more emotional or exhausting,” licensed psychologist Marni Amsellem told HuffPost. “There’s the potential to awaken something within you that you had been trying to push down. You’re definitely tapping into something when you’re having one of those therapy sessions.”

Mental health research professor Mike Crawford, from Imperial College London, agrees.

“Treatments affect people. And if you can affect people, you can’t be 100% confident what those effects are going to be,” Crawford told Quartz. “There’s an idea out there that psychological therapy is only helpful. But we think that patients who make choices about engaging in psychological therapy should be given information at the start, which is most people are going to benefit from an intervention, but some people may not.”

Crawford’s research has actually found that for some, therapy can have long-lasting negative effects -- particularly ethnic minorities and non-heterosexuals.

“In order to engage in a healthy and helpful therapeutic relationship, the therapist needs to understand the social and cultural context of the patient’s life,” he says. “For some who have experience of being marginalized, the experience of being offered help may not be inherently helpful.”

However, Crawford also found that this occurs more frequently when patients were not told the details of what therapy they would receive in advance. But, for most people, this is a sign that you’re on the right track and are making progress.

So, how can cope so that you don’t have as anxious or uncomfortable following a therapy session? Well, here are four techniques to try out.

1. Create a time and space buffer.

“I always recommend clients arrive a few minutes before the session to settle in and relax to get ready to dive into therapy and also encourage them to give them a few minutes to prepare to re-enter their normal lives after session,” suggests psychotherapist Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW. “I also love to encourage clients to walk it off. Walking instead of hopping on the subway with a bunch of strangers allows us to relax and settle back into the real world.”

2. Remind yourself that this will pass.

Take a deep breath, pause, and remind yourself that the discomfort you’re feeling is temporary and will pass. Also, remember that this means that you’re successfully working towards a positive change and are getting closer to your therapy intentions.

3. Engage in self-care.

Treating yourself kindly and gently is another great way to recover when you feel vulnerable after a therapy session. To counter this, engage in some self-care like journaling, drawing, meditating, reading, physical activity, or whatever healthy activities that help you relax and recharge.

4. Speak up.

“If you are experiencing significant anxiety as a result of a counseling session, please speak with your therapist about your concerns if this feels like a safe option for you,” said Megan Sutherland, a registered clinical social worker and founder of Willow Tree Counselling in Vancouver. “If it does not, please reach out to someone you trust or think about working with a different therapist if this is an alternative available to you.”

Final words of advice.

Please don’t give up on therapy if you feel worse or exhausted feeling a session. While no one wants to feel this way, it’s for the best. However, if you can’t shake these feelings, after a couple of days please contact your therapist immediately.

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