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Why therapists encourage clients to track triggers in therapy

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

Most often when starting therapy, a therapist will ask their client if they notice any symptoms and triggers in order for the therapist to get a better idea of what is going on in the persons everyday life. This also helps build a foundation for a therapeutic plan to help the client reach their goals. A therapist may also ask a client to track these symptoms and triggers to better help the client develop more insight and awareness that can be used in future sessions.

When looking at the symptoms to the episodes, your therapist is asking you to note what type of reaction you are having to these triggers. You can start to track these reactions in your phone or in a journal. Reflecting back on the incident can help you navigate and discuss details of the situation with your therapist.

Acknowledge your Triggers

When discussing triggers, your therapist is asking you to pay attention to certain people, places, things, or events that are distressing or cause some type of reaction. Some examples of this can be (not an exhaustive list):

  • places with a lot of people

  • an argument with a friend

  • school or place of work

  • getting a bad grade or review

  • seeing something on social media

When you start to be aware the triggers and ask the questions: What happened just before I had a reaction? Was there a particular moment where you felt it happening? Reflecting back on the incident can help you navigate and discuss the situation with your therapist.

Note your Symptoms

When discussing symptoms, your therapist is asking you to note what type of reaction you are having to these triggers physical and/or mental responses. Negative emotions and physical signs can give you the awareness that you are being triggered:

Here are some symptoms from a triggers to look for:

  • heart racing

  • difficulty breathing

  • sweaty palms

  • anxiety

  • Insecurity

  • experiencing anger

  • avoidance

  • tightness in chest

Progress Markers

Sometimes what comes up in session for clients is not being aware of how much progress they have made in therapy. We, as a society, don't often pay attention to our progress or achievements because it's not as directly in our face as our "failures" or "struggles".

We must actively change our perspective to looking at how far we've come and what our differences are. Your therapist may encourage you to do this, as they may notice the progress before you do and they want you to acknowledge what comes out of hard work.

Some examples of progress markers in therapy can be:

  • the reaction to a trigger being less intense

  • having less triggers

  • holding your boundaries

  • keeping up with chores and activities

  • noticing less ruminating thoughts

  • better sleep

  • better concentration and focus

  • having fewer episodes of panic/anxiety

Everyone's progress looks different, however, these are just a few things to look out for that might show you how far you've come in your healing journey.

Identifying landmarks in your progress can always be something that you talk about with your therapist.

Progress isn’t linear and usually, not as easily quantifiable which can make it difficult for clients to feel that they are making steps in the right direction. Therapy isn't easy and knowing your efforts to improve your mental health and turning it into positive change is a confidence boost. These improvements are a reason to keep going and know that you can start to overcome triggers. After all, triggers are wonderful gateways to healing.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for the help you deserve.

You are worth it.


Stephanie Polizzi is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling.

Stephanie specializes in young adults and adults struggling with anxiety,eating disorders, behavioral challenges, life transitions and trauma.

Some of the practices she uses include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness, Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)and EMDR Therapy in her work with clients.


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