“Therapy Makes Me Feel Worse” (4 Reasons Why)

A woman is crying in a therapy session

Everyone goes to therapy hoping to solve a problem, feel better, and get something out of their sessions.

And why wouldn’t we? Therapy works. There have been multiple studies that prove that is true.

However, I don’t see it discussed very often what can happen when therapy makes you feel worse after your session. 

This can be confusing to many of us, because it is something we aren’t expecting, and this can, unfortunately, be why some people feel therapy simply doesn’t work for them and give up. 

This is something I personally experienced in 2021, when I went through extreme overwhelm and burnout.  

After my first few sessions with a mental health professional, I felt worse coming out than I did going in. I thought it wasn’t working, and I was contemplating quitting.  

I am so glad that I didn’t. 

But why does this happen to some of us? And what should we do about it? 

Why does therapy make me feel worse?

1) We are experiencing a therapy hangover

Many therapy sessions are extremely emotional, especially if we have a lot of trauma or a lot of intense emotions that we have been bottling up and need to work through. It is normal to cry or to express other strong emotions like anger during a session. 

Because of this, it can lead to us feeling exhausted and just not good after a session. I used to refer to this as “the therapy blahs”. I just felt tired and empty and not good after many of my sessions at the beginning. 

But I know now that this is completely normal. Expressing and processing all of that emotion can leave us feeling like we have a literal hangover after the appointment, or even in the following days. In fact, there are studies that support that emotional hangovers are a real thing. 

It makes complete sense when you really think about it.

2) Therapy is new to us

 If we aren’t used to talking about our feelings and emotions, it can be extremely uncomfortable and take some time for us to adjust to. We also may not have developed coping skills to deal with those feelings yet.

It doesn’t mean that it isn’t working, it just means it might take some time for us to get used to therapy.

3) We are actually getting better

Sometimes, especially at the beginning of therapy, some of us might feel worse before we start to get better. We can have many traumatic experiences and overwhelming emotions that we need to address and work through.  

This can be an exhausting and difficult process, however, it can be a necessary one to get us feeling better and we can actually experience immense growth and progression afterward.  

Personally, I feel so much better than I ever felt bad after therapy if that makes sense. 

Feeling worse can be a positive sign that we are processing things and will be feeling even better than we began soon.

4) Our therapist or the style of therapy isn’t the right fit for us

This is probably the least common reason in the list, but sometimes that therapist or that style of therapy just doesn’t mesh well with us, and we aren’t getting anything out of it. 

Just like I would urge my friends to do (since we are friends now, right?), I would say to give it a fair shot and give it some time before making any rash decisions.  

And make sure you are open and honest about your feelings with your therapist. If you really do feel like you aren’t a good fit, they may be able to adjust their therapy style or try something else. 

They want you to feel better too! 

4 Things you can do if therapy is making you feel worse

1) Give yourself some time and space to process

If you find you are struggling right after a therapy session, it can be useful to take some time and space before trying to jump right back into your normal routines.

For me, this meant that for the first little while I didn’t go to therapy in the middle of my work day, because I found I was too emotional to return to work.

So I made sure to make all of my appointments for the ends of my workdays so that I could spend some time in my car singing along to some of my favorite music on the way home and I had some time to unwind after my sessions.

2) Engage in self-care

Self-care seems to be the solution to everything on this blog, however that is because it really does help.

There are several self-care activities that I would personally recommend after a particularly emotional or challenging therapy session:

  • Journaling – this can help you to document your thoughts and emotions after therapy and can provide you with insight for future sessions.
  • Yoga – practicing mindfulness can help you to focus on what is happening in the current moment, and not what happened in therapy.
  • Take a bath – Doing something relaxing and soothing, like taking a bath can help you to decompress.
  • Something fun – It can also be a good idea to pick a self-care activity that you find really fun, so that it can help you to take your mind off of therapy in a healthy way.

3) Be gentle with yourself

Struggling after therapy doesn’t mean you are broken. It doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. It actually is a sign that you have been strong for a really long time and you are doing your best to care for yourself now.

You deserve all of the kindness in the world.

4) Contact your therapist

First, I think if you are feeling worse after your appointments, you should tell your therapist at the next session. They may have a solution to help you feel better and can offer you more support. 

However, If these negative feelings become overwhelming, or have lasted more than a few days it would be a good idea to contact your therapist before your next appointment. They should be able to help, and can even suggest more coping strategies.  

Therapy can take time for it to really start to work, and it’s possible that you can start to feel worse before you feel better. It doesn’t mean that therapy won’t work for you, or that your therapist isn’t a good therapist.  

It just might mean you need some time and space to grow and feel all of the feelings. 

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, you can get help now. If you, or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text “HOME” to 741741 to talk to someone at the Crisis Text Line. 

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