In a first session with a new client I make sure to point out how therapy can actually make you feel "worse." This may be a confusing thing to hear from your therapist, but it's an important thing to know before you get started.
Therapy work can shake you up, turn you inside out, flip you upside down, spin you around, and then as soon as you get settled in and comfortable, it may do it all over again. In getting into the trenches with yourself, you are bound to uncover things that your protective parts have intentionally suppressed and avoided. Old patterns and behaviors may get analyzed in ways that open your eyes to things you never acknowledged before. You may see your loved ones differently. You may reassess if you even love your career or your hobbies or your values. You may feel completely mind blown at how little you really know about yourself and your world. You may start to ask yourself why you chose to torture yourself like this? Is therapy worth it?
As you continue to show up and stay curious, a beautiful thing begins to happen. You start to notice that you're happier and more hopeful. You feel more confident and empowered. You start noticing shifts in your reactivity, behaviors, communication skills and boundary setting. You realize how many things you do have choice over. You recognize the "story" you've been telling yourself and understand that the narratives we all carry about ourselves and others aren't actually factual. They are things we can choose to rewrite and/or write differently. Your relationships begin to improve and you are more assertive in your communication with difficult people in your life. You start to stand up straighter and notice beauty around you more often.
You might begin to wonder what happened?
In digging deep and uncovering the things many people would prefer to avoid, you were able to process through the fragmented parts of self that created the distress to begin with. Similar to the saying "the only way out is through," therapy work guides you toward the dark corners of your psyche that covered themselves in darkness in order to protect you. Your protective parts had wonderful intentions in pushing aside the difficulties and the uncomfortable things. However, that likely happened when you were younger, less cognitively developed, had less space to tend to and nurture yourself, and less of a say over your life. You now have the time, the space, and the power to heal those unprocessed and fragmented wounds. You aren't doing it alone, either. Your therapist is walking alongside you through it.
Once you begin to teach yourself that you are coming in for maintenance work to create a more appealing inner self, your body and mind join forces. They work together to untangle the webs your protective parts created to keep the bad things out. They learn that you don't have to shelter yourself anymore from the "scaries" because you are a strong and capable individual who has the tools to work through it all.
Therapy creates a space that enables you to relearn, or learn for the first time, how to truly trust yourself. In trusting yourself, you increase your levels of confidence and resilience. In learning to love yourself and nurture yourself, you naturally begin to choose relationships and environments and situations more wisely. You find people and environments that lift you up, that serve you, that validate you. You attune to your own needs and teach any harmed parts within you with more empowered and loving instincts.
Yes, therapy can make you feel worse. Therapy can cause issues in your interpersonal life as you start to rid yourself of toxic relationships, or redefine and renegotiate relationships and situations in your life. Therapy can cause you to look at things you thought you wanted or things you thought you were happy with and realize that no longer resonates. Therapy can point out the things that would be "easier" to overlook but that are also possible to change. That part IS difficult. That part IS uncomfortable. That part may even be a bit cringey. But what comes next is a whole new level of freedom and curiosity and beauty that those who have gone through the therapeutic process can speak to.
If you are considering going to therapy but are unsure, ask someone close to you who has had a positive therapeutic experience what it has been like for them if they are willing to share. If you're more curious, start by setting up a free consultation with a therapist to see hear more about how they approach therapy work. You are always able to do a pressure-free consultation without committing if you aren't ready just yet.
Good luck on your journey.