It’s finally happening, we have decided to seek out counselling. We go in for our first appointment and talk about what’s been going for us, why we’ve decided to start counselling and answer any questions we might be asked. Eventually, our 50 minutes is up, we leave, and we’re feeling…terrible? Well wait, isn’t counselling supposed to make us feel better? If therapy is supposed to be helpful then why are we leaving our therapist’s office feeling exhausted, vulnerable, and exposed?

This strange contradiction sometimes referred to as a therapy hangover, is a completely normal feeling after counselling. After opening up to our counsellors or processing difficult emotions, we may feel drained, heavy, or not feeling like our regular selves. We often hear that it needs to get worse before it gets better, but no one really explains why that’s the case.

Imagine having a toothache that gets more painful every day and makes it almost impossible to eat and sleep. Eventually, the toothache gets to the point where it can’t be ignored any longer. You go to the dentist who then decides that the tooth needs to come out and therefore, you must go through an uncomfortable procedure of getting the tooth pulled. Upon leaving, the freezing eventually wears off, and there are some pain and a little discomfort but it gets better over the next week. However, the discomfort of healing is easier to cope with than the original pain. Think of the problem as the toothache that won’t go away, it gets worse until we can’t take it anymore and decide to seek help. Then, therapy as the uncomfortable procedure we go through to work through our issue and the difficult emotions that come after sessions as being the pain and discomfort that comes after our procedure.

In sessions, we are being asked to explore our problems in a much deeper and open way and not using any defence mechanisms (such as avoiding, distraction, denial, etc.) that may have been used to protect ourselves prior to seeing a counsellor. We are being asked to express intense feelings and to sit in discomfort which is emotionally draining and sometimes scary.1 This goes against our instinct which is to avoid negative emotions and memories, but in counselling, we are facing these feelings head-on. We’re asked to do this so that we can fully explore our problem which eventually helps us to find insight, a solution, or peace.2 We are going to be uncomfortable sometimes, however, this discomfort is a positive sign that counselling is progressing.1 Counselling is hard work, so it’s understandable that all we want to do after our session is veg out in front of the tv or take a nap.

If we’re feeling like this after our appointments, we need to take care of ourselves by being kind to ourselves and engaging in self-care. Ultimately, only we know what is best for us but some common self-care methods are:

  • Resting
  • Reflecting and journaling about your sessions
  • Going for a walk
  • Treating yourself with indulgence or guilty pleasure
  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Talking to your counsellor

Letting your counsellor know about the ‘hangovers’ can be beneficial. It is helpful for our counsellors to know how we’re feeling after sessions, that way they can provide us with more strategies and options to handle our feelings of exhaustion and vulnerability and to prepare us for what to expect before leaving our session.

If you’re feeling anything like what we’ve talked about today, take heart!  Counselling can be hard, and even exhausting but you’re doing the good work of doing the work. Let your counsellor know how you’re doing, and press on! Feel free to contact us if you feel like to reach out!

 

References

  1. (2016, March 17). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/psychotherapy/about/pac-20384616
  1. Shouldn’t psychotherapy make me feel good? (2008, July). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/in-therapy/200807/shouldn-t-psychotherapy-make-me-feel-good