The Therapy Hangover

By: Bryan Nixon, MA, LPC

Have you ever experienced it? It’s that time-frame after a really meaningful session, typically lasting 1-4 hours in which you may have a slight bit of tunnel vision, your legs and body may feel a bit heavy, your thoughts will be a bit hazy. Trust me, this is completely normal. In fact it is a good indicator of the beginning of transformation. The process of true transformation requires, initially, a period of disruption, deconstruction and exploration of your typical way of being in the world. After which, there can be a season of reconstruction into a new way of being in the world that is more meaningful and life-giving.

After the first few sessions, new clients will often say something like, “I don’t know if this is helping. I think I am actually feeling a little bit worse.” Paradoxically, it is this experience that may be indicative of the fact that something is beginning to shift. Again, it is disruptive when your autopilot methods of doing life and relationships are examined with curiosity that goes beyond, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” Initially it often does feel like things are getting worse before they get better, but things will get better if you’re willing to walk through the disruption phase.

During this period of time you can expect to experience the therapy hangover from time to time. Here are three suggestions for how to deal with it when it happens:

  1. REST – Try to give yourself some intentional down time after your therapy sessions. This act of kindness toward yourself will allow your mind, body and soul to simply rest. You most likely will not have a full 1-4 hour block of time available for this, if you do that’s great, but I would suggest taking at least 20 minutes to purposefully be still.
  2. REFLECT – Be intentional about reflecting on your session. Think about what you and your therapist talked about. What did you feel? What were your thoughts doing? Was your inner critic on the attack? If so, what message was he or she throwing at you?
  3. REORIENT – When you have rested and reflected, take a few slow, deep belly-filling breaths, feel the sensation of your feet firmly planted on the floor and gently begin to shift your awareness to what you need to do next in your day.

May your therapy hangovers produce much transformational fruit!