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Getting Back Up:
How To overcome
Setbacks in Therapy

So, you’ve decided to take charge of your mental health, heal all the wounds, and face your fears head on in therapy and that is so badass. But let’s be real—therapy isn’t always a smooth ride. Sometimes, shit hits the fan, and you find yourself  feeling defeated. In the world of therapy we call this “backsliding” and/or “setbacks”.


A setback isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing. Let’s explore how you can empower the hell out of yourself when life tries to knock you down. Though this blog will focus on anxiety-based treatment, setbacks, and getting through backsliding, goes for any type of goal– overcoming procrastination, spending, substance use, anger outbursts– you name it, setbacks happen. These tools will help you regardless of what you’re focused on in therapy.

overcoming anxiety and setbacks and finding motivation

1. Embrace the Rollercoaster

Let’s get a few things straight about the reality of setbacks and kick out any misconceptions, cognitive distortions or other fancy ways of saying– don’t let trash brain keep you stuck.


Here are some things that setbacks are NOT:

  • Setbacks are not indicative of failure
  • Setbacks are not indicative that therapy sucks
  • Setbacks are not a reflection of you as a whole
  • Setbacks do not mean you’re out of the game
  • Setbacks hurt like hell, so it’s okay to be pissed off, sad and even sick and tired of it. Because eventually, that anger can be used as motivation.


Here are some things that setbacks ARE:

  • Setbacks are evidence that you’ve made progress
  • Setbacks are evidenced that you are challenging yourself
  • Setbacks are evidenced that you take risks, even when you might get your ass kicked a little
  • Setbacks are proof that you’re human, and than life is not linear
  • Setbacks are NORMAL
  • Setbacks are good indicators for you and your therapist to use to build new skills and goals.
  • Setbacks and backsliding are part of the journey.

Life isn’t a straight road, and neither is healing. So, embrace the rollercoaster, acknowledge that setbacks happen, and remind yourself that you’re still in the game.

2. Anger Ingredients: Embarrassment & Defeat

Sometimes, our ego’s are sensitive flowers and that’s okay. When you hit a rough patch, don’t hold back how it makes you feel. So many clients feel ashamed and defeated. Shame is the weed that kills the garden. It sucks the life out of us, robs us of our confidence and tries to convince us that we don’t have the cojones to keep going. When we push back on shame, we are standing up to our internal bully, and ‘ya gotta admit, that feels good.


Secondly, dealing with a sense of defeat may take a little time and nurturing. The expression “lick your wounds”, though barbaric and weird, is apt. We may need time to regain confidence and strength. Take your time, and bring your therapist in to help during this process.


Therapists know that setbacks are a real gut-punch. Unleash the colorful language and tell your therapist how much this setback sucks. Let them in on your frustrations, fears, and everything in between. Therapy is a safe space to vent, so don’t be shy about dropping some f-bombs or letting those expletives fly. Your therapist can handle it!

3. Give Yourself a Break

In those moments of backsliding, be gentle with yourself. Kick perfectionism to the curb and ditch the self-blame. You’re only human, and anxiety can be a relentless pain in the ass. Cut yourself some slack, practice self-compassion, and remind yourself that setbacks don’t define your worth.

When I encourage my clients to practice self-compassion, I often get the good ‘ole eye roll. As a therapist, this hints to me one of the following:

  • You don’t think you need compassion
  • You don’t think you deserve self-compassion
  • You don’t truly know what self-compassion would look like in practice
  • You believe that self-compassion enables failure,
  • You don’t think that self-compassion can foster, even kickstart, progress and growth

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I get it. You want to strong-arm this setback, you think you should just be able to bounce back, or maybe you want to say you  F*!% it all together.


But before you jump ship, let’s explore the role of self-compassion after a setback.

You don't think you need compassion

Wrong. Numerous studies have shown that cultivating self-compassion is not only beneficial but essential for mental well-being. Research conducted by Dr. Kristin Neff and her colleagues has shown that self-compassion is strongly associated with lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. It promotes emotional resilience, improves self-esteem, and enhances overall psychological functioning. So, when it comes to navigating the treacherous waters of mental health, self-compassion is your mighty life jacket, scientifically proven to keep you afloat.

You don't think you deserve self-compassion

Time to challenge that belief with some research from the world of neuroscience! Studies that have consistently demonstrated that self-compassion is not contingent on achievement or deservingness. In fact, it’s a fundamental human need. Research conducted at Harvard and by Dr. Paul Gilbert and others has shown that self-compassion activates the same neural pathways associated with feelings of safety, belonging, and well-being. It fosters self-acceptance and reduces self-criticism, allowing you to embrace your imperfections and recognize your inherent worthiness. So, let go of the notion that you need to earn self-compassion—it’s your birthright as a human being.


Let’s demystify self-compassion with some scientific clarity. Dr. Kristin Neff’s 3 core elements of self-compassion:

  1. Self-kindness: treating yourself with warmth, understanding, & forgiveness, just as you would treat a friend
  2. Common humanity: recognizing common humanity reminds you that you’re not alone in your struggles—everyone experiences difficulties.
  3. Mindfulness: this helps you observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment, allowing you to respond to them with a balanced perspective.

    These practices have been shown to cultivate resilience, reduce anxiety, and improve emotional well-being.

You believe that self-compassion enables failure

Whoops, wrong again. Self-compassion is not a hall pass for failure. It’s actually the antidote to fear and self-sabotage. When you’re trapped in the anxiety spiral, self-compassion helps you dust yourself off and keep moving forward. It’s not about coddling or making excuses; it’s about finding strength in your vulnerability, learning from your mistakes, and using them as stepping stones towards growth. So, ditch that belief that self-compassion is a soft approach. It’s the fuel that lights your fire.

You don't think that self-compassion promotes progress

Self-compassion isn’t just some fluffy feel-good concept– it’s a catalyst for transformation and personal growth. When you embrace self-compassion, you create a space within yourself to explore, take risks, and push beyond your comfort zone. Self-compassion helps you find the courage to face your fears, challenge your anxiety, and discover the incredible resilience that lies within you.

Now that we've covered self-compassion, let's finish up This list...

4. Reflect on Your Progress

Take a moment to look back at the progress you’ve already made. Remember those times when anxiety didn’t hold you hostage, OCD didn’t dictate your life, and phobias didn’t control you? Yeah, celebrate those victories! Reflecting on how far you’ve come can reignite that fire within you and remind you that you ARE capable. 

5. Recharge Your Arsenal

When anxiety tries to bring you down, it’s time to bust out your arsenal of coping strategies and tools. Dust off those mindfulness techniques, deep breathing exercises, or whatever works for you. Coping is unique– it doesn’t always have to look like deep breaths. Sometimes it’s going to your local RageRoom, making art, moving your body– but whatever helps you rebuild is the right thing to do.

Collaborate with your therapist to reinforce those strategies, develop new ones, and keep that anxiety monster at bay. You’ve got this!

Settling the Setbacks.

If you take anything from this blog, I hope it is an understanding that setbacks are part of the process. Embrace the bumps, & empower yourself to keep going. You’re stronger than you think, and with a little resilience, self-compassion, and a badass toolbox of coping strategies, you’ll keep moving forward on your journey to anxiety liberation.

Stay fierce & never give up.

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Uur goal it to decrease stress and anxiety, so we understand that the financial commitment to therapy is something to consider! We provide OON billing for clients who decide to bill their insurance for services. A “Superbill” can be provided to you for potential reimbursement of services. To know if you have to OON benefits, you can call your insurance company and ask about the process of receiving these benefits. 

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See our “Affordable Therapy” Page for info on licensing and costs of therapy.

 LAC/LSW are therapists who may practice clinical work under the supervision of a fully licensed therapist.

LPC/LCSW are therapists who have completed the necessary clinical hours post-graduation under supervision and can practice clinical work independently.

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We ask that clients provide at least 24 hours notice in the event that they need to cancel to avoid the 50% cancellation fee. we understand that life happens and do our best to be flexible & reschedule.

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VRT is an immersive tool that helps clients to explore environments that can not be traditionally explored in therapy. Visit our VR page for more info and to watch our infomercial 

What is VRT used for?

we use VRT to support Exposure Therapy, a long standing traditional therapy modality to treat phobias, anxiety and stress. we send a headset directly to your home so you can access VRT from anywhere.

VRT not only helps with exposure therapy for phobias, but is great for ADHD, mindfulness, PTSD and social anxiety.

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