It’s easy to see when your friend needs to dial it down at a party. When your cousin’s behavior is a little off. When things are off balance for someone else. But it’s not so easy to see about yourself. Sometimes you seek therapy precisely because you are not clear about where you are trying to go and what you are trying to do.

That’s why it’s especially hard to know if your therapy is working. It’s difficult to be objective about yourself and the progress you’re making. But therapy is an expensive investment that you should take seriously.

Start by asking yourself what you want to achieve. It can be a relief to let yourself wander from subject to subject at session after session, but think about your long-term goal. What do you want to accomplish?

Does your therapist understand your objective?

After all, your therapist should be completely in sync with your treatment goals. If she is, you are much more likely to achieve them when you’re both working together in harmony. If you have any doubt, it doesn’t hurt to clarify and reiterate what you expect to get from your sessions. Your therapist should be unequivocally onboard.

Does your therapist pass your gut test?

Do you feel like you’re treading water and getting nowhere? Do you have a nagging feeling that some other treatment or some other therapist might work better? Do you feel like your therapist doesn’t understand you?

You may not feel like you’re making progress after a few sessions, but you should feel like you’ve been understood, and that there’s a possibility of getting better. Of course, a good therapist can help you explore feelings that are painful, so you can’t expect sunshine and roses all the time. But you can get a sense that the pain you’re going through has a purpose—that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. You just don’t want to feel bad because your therapy is going nowhere and your therapist doesn’t comprehend your problems.

Does your therapist make you feel your time and money is well spent?

What did you take away from your session? Many therapists will recap what you’ve explored at the end the session. Do you agree with her summary? Is there anything you haven’t covered that you’d like to discuss next time? If she doesn’t give you a summary, ask for one.

Beyond your individual session, it’s useful to get a sense of how the cumulative sessions are working. How far have you come, and how much farther will you have to go? Have you made 20, 40 or 60 percent progress toward your goal? Ask her to quantify the progress you’ve made. Ask her what more you can do to accelerate your progress.

Finally, ask your therapist to explain how the treatment you’re undergoing will help you. Ask for an assessment of how your treatment is working. Make sure you and your therapist are on the same page. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll surely never get there.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here: