No one can really tell a client what will happen during a therapy session. No one can really tell what will happen after a therapy session, either. Will the client feel better, or will they feel worse? Will they feel energized, or will they feel tired? Will problems immediately resolve, or will it take a while? The answer, at least according to this therapist, is, “It depends.” It can help clients to think about what happens after a therapy session, though, so that they can make plans about how to best care for themselves.
Some people feel better after they finish a therapy session. They experience catharsis, or emotional release (Cherry, 2022). They feel lighter; life seems easier. Others find that therapy validates that things are hard, and in the short term, this can heighten difficult emotions (Leonard, 2019; Marlow-MaCoy, 2018). Planning to spend time checking in with oneself after therapy can be helpful because of these paradoxical responses.
Many people find that they feel tired after therapy. Some even state that they feel exhausted (Bratskeir, 2019; Garis, 2019). This is especially common after trauma therapy, such as EMDR, as the brain continues to reprocess thoughts and feelings even after the therapy session itself is done (Scott, 2022a; Scott, 2022b). Therapy is hard work, and just like exercise, it may be necessary to develop strength to move forward (Garis, 2019; Robertson, 2020). Gaining this strength may require extra rest.
Some clients do feel immediate relief when they start therapy. Having a safe place to share thoughts and feelings is extremely beneficial (Garis, 2019). For others, however, seeing benefits from therapy takes a long time. Staying committed to therapy requires perseverance.
While no one can tell what will happen during therapy, most therapists agree on some basic skills that can help clients after therapy. Grounding and breathing are very important as clients transition into what they need to do next after therapy (Vinopal, n.d.) Some clients find that exercise can help renew their energy, while others like to build in a nap (Robertson, 2020; Smith, 2021). Journaling, writing down, or even dictating one’s feelings can be a good way to release any unwanted emotions and welcome in desired changes (Bratskeir, 2019; Garis, 2019; Robertson, 2020). Journaling also provides a record for clients to see areas of struggle and progress. Art is yet another way to rest and reflect (Nixon, 2015; Smith, 2022). Specifics after therapy matter less than intent. Caring for self is the goal.
A therapy appointment takes up one or more hours a week. Aftercare takes a lifetime. If aftercare is a struggle, clients should bring it up to their therapists, so that together, they can make a plan to reap all the positive benefits of therapy and keep clients going and growing in their journeys.
Bratskeir, K. (2019, December 5). Therapy ‘hangovers’ are totally real. Here’s how to deal with them. HuffPost.
Cherry, K. (2022, August 20). What is catharsis. VeryWell Mind.
Earles, S. (2021, November 8). Transitions as part of therapy. Arizona Family Counseling.
Garis, M.G. (2019, July 25). How to recover from a therapy hangover, because the post-session blues are super common. Well + Good.
Leonard, J. (2019, July 11). EMDR therapy. Everything you need to know. Medical News Today.
Marlow-MaCoy, A. (2018, August 19). Why therapy sucks, part 2: Emotional hangover. AmyMarlowMaCoy.com.
Nixon, B. (2015, November 10). The therapy hangover. Mindful Counseling GR.
Robertson, A. (2020, August 2.). What is a therapy hangover and how to cope with it? Medium.
Scott, L.M. (2022a, May 4). My experience with EDMR trauma therapy. Healthy Place.
Scott, L.M. (2022b, May 23). How I feel after EMDR therapy. Healthy Place.
Smith, L. (2021, March 29). Why is therapy so exhausting? Patient.
Smith, L. (2022, July 20). Why do you sometimes feel worse after therapy? GoodRxHealth.
Vinopal, L. (n.d.). What’s a ‘therapy hangover,’ and how do I get rid of it? Mel Magazine.