How to Measure Your Progress in Therapy at the Start of the New Year
There isn't an exact or simple method to measure progress in therapy throughout the year, but there are some ways professionals explain that you could be on the right track. "The human experience is much too complex to be quantified and organized in simple terms," says Britt Frank, MSW, LSCSW, SEP, a clinician, educator, trauma specialist, and the author of The Science of Stuck: Breaking Through Inertia to Find Your Path Forward (from $14.99, amazon.com). "That said, it is important to consider if your time and money are being well spent in therapy." She recommends taking inventory throughout the year by segmenting your wellness into relational, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral categories. To measure relational growth, ask, "Are my relationships thriving?" Pose similar queries for emotional ("Am I feeling more in charge of my emotions?"), cognitive ("Do I notice more clarity and compassion in my thinking?") and behavioral (Am I making different choices?"), too.
Joelle Prevost, a registered clinical counselor, licensed teacher, communication-skills coach, and the author of The Conversation Guide: How To Skillfully Communicate, Set Boundaries, and Be Understood (from $7.99, amazon.com), recommends setting realistic, specific, and measurable goals at the beginning of therapy to help look at progress by the year's end. "With goals in mind, you will be able to see if you are closer to achieving what you came to therapy for—or maybe you have already achieved your goal and can move onto something new," she says. Either work with your therapist to set these goals or think through some on your own by asking: What in my life do I want to change? What will my life look like if I achieve my goals? What will my life feel like if I achieve my goals? By the end of 365 days, you should have a few answers.
Here, discover ways to create this moment of review in therapy at the start of the new year.
First things first: Evaluate your relationship with your therapist.
Prevost recommends approaching therapy with patience, since finding a therapist you click with—and then doing the work—can truly be a long process. "Give therapists a few sessions to see how they work, if you don't feel a good connection, move on until you find someone you feel is a good fit," she says. "Therapists have very different styles, techniques, schedules, and personalities (yes, we are human!)." Continue with self-encouragement, as simply getting started is a feat in and of itself. Plus, building a trusting relationship with your therapist and laying a foundation to grow deserves credit. Aside from setting measurable goals, as Prevost shared previously, leading with honesty is one of the most important steps. "If you are feeling you can't be honest with your therapist, that is a big problem," she notes, explaining that it could be the therapist or your relationship with them, so it could be helpful to find someone new in these instances. Keep your own possible resistance to therapy in mind, though, during this process. "I've had clients tell me that they've seen therapists in the past, but it didn't work because they were not in a place where they could be honest," Prevost says. "You should feel safe to share anything and everything, and with that knowledge, your therapist will be able to do their job in helping you."
Section your year into quarters.
Try sectioning your year off into four quarters: Frank recommends focusing on last year's behaviors and thinking patterns from January through March (quarter one)—this should be your period of review. From there, think through how you got to the present moment by asking yourself these questions: Why are you not where you want to be? What you have tried? Where do you still find yourself stuck? These will help you create a plan, keep your goals manageable, and set a pace. During April through May (quarter two), create a sense of routine, take on a new hobby, and declutter your home. Reflect on the first quarter goals and decide if anything needs an adjustment.
"Most people hit the holiday season and crash because they have not planned early enough for the stress, family feuding, and boundary-setting that the season requires," Frank says of the June through August (quarter three) period, and adds not to wait. "Third quarter is the prime time to talk with your therapist about a holiday survival strategy. This is the best time to sharpen the skills you'll need in order to navigate the 'most wonderful time of the year.'" For the last few months of the year (quarter four), simply maintain your progress. "Give yourself lots of permission and validation," Frank shares. "Hold on for the ride and do your best to set and hold boundaries, to practice good self-care, and to focus on simple goals like drinking water and getting adequate sleep."
Create a rating system.
"It would be more accurate be call New Year's resolutions New Year's res-illusions—most lofty January goals are abandoned by February," says Frank. "Instead of looking forward and asking, 'What do I want next year?' it is more beneficial to look backward and take inventory of last year." She compares this process to a business: If a company doesn't take inventory, failure can result; this principle is similar to therapy. Both Frank and Prevost suggest creating a system to rate your satisfaction, using a scale from one to 10, based on these areas: finances, physical health, emotional health, fun, family, friendships, intimacy, career and meaningful work, and stress management. "Ask yourself what choices you made, what resources you used, and what tools were available to you in each area during the previous year," she says. "This will give you and your therapist a blueprint for how to structure therapy sessions and on what topics to spend time and energy."
Plus, this can be an opportunity to reflect on any and all achievements made in the previous year—none are too small, Prevost says. "Think about some (again, realistic, achievable, and specific) goals you have within each category. Is change needed? Is the goal to maintain the status quo?" she adds. "Depending on the goal, look back and think about what's worked for you in the past and what's not worked for you. This knowledge of yourself helps you to make a plan of what you can do to achieve your goals."