Mental Health, Relationships, Therapy, Toolkit

When Therapy Isn’t Working

Seeing a therapist or counselor is kind of a strange experience at first. Here you are, expected to spill your deepest darkest secrets to a total stranger. Not only that, but to give them money for it, and they don’t even tell you that much about themselves in return.  The good news is that most people find that talking to a neutral third party who has spent years in obtaining the education, licensure and experience to help you is overall a positive experience.

But sometimes it can feel like the therapy process is just not working for you. Maybe you even feel worse than when you started. Here are some reasons why therapy can feel like it’s not working, with ideas to turn it around.

“I don’t like my therapist.”

The relationship between you and your therapist is the foundation of therapy. It’s the connection which enables change to happen. Sometimes there is just not a good fit between you and the therapist. Maybe your therapist reminds you of your ex or your mom, which is called transference, or you realize you’d do better with a different type of therapeutic approach.  One way to approach this problem is to let your therapist know how you are feeling. “I don’t feel we are connecting in the way I need for successful therapy.”  Be specific, if you can. Your therapist should be able to talk this through with you and help you determine if it can be worked out. If it can’t, they can help you find a better fit with another practitioner.

“I went to 6 sessions and the therapist still has not fixed me/us.”

A therapist isn’t there to give you answers on how to fix your problems or become happy. We are there to help you unpack your thoughts and feelings in a safe environment, and determine what changes you need to make to have a healthier and happier life. We walk with you on the journey, but we can’t walk it for you. We offer new perspectives, provide tools for living in a more preferred manner, and above all give a safe space to explore all of the above. If you feel like your therapy isn’t progressing, again, do tell your therapist so that he or she can work with you to get back on track.

“I haven’t been honest with my therapist.”

This can definitely slow down progress, and in some cases prevent it completely. On one hand, it sometimes takes some time with a therapist to feel ready to share some of your deeper truths.  Maybe in addition to depression, you are secretly abusing drugs or alcohol. Or one of the problems in your relationship is that there is hidden infidelity.  In a sense, this is not unusual in therapy – as therapists, we sometimes find the full story unfolding during the course of treatment. At the same time, being honest about issues that may be keeping you stuck in a problematic situation can help your treatment progress.

“I’m just not ready.”

When we develop faulty coping mechanisms, like drug or alcohol abuse, anger, staying isolated, cutting, being a workaholic and cutting off personal relationships, etc, the thing to know is that these coping mechanisms were originally in response to something in your life that threw your equilibrium off and left you grasping for some way to cope. That said, these ways of managing don’t work for long, and can cause a great deal of harm. They are things that you may want to change, and that those around you may be asking you to change. Taking the step to call a therapist and begin to turn things around is one of the bravest thing I see people do. It’s not easy, and the idea of giving up old ways of coping can be terrifying – even if you know you need to.  Sometimes people start therapy and the first signs of progress or change are really scary. This can make even people who are making good progress drop out of treatment. This is another issue to talk with your therapist about. “I want to change, but I am not sure I am ready for this.” See if you can get some guidance on ways counseling can feel safe and appropriately paces for you.

These are just a few reasons therapy can feel like it’s just not working. All of them can be worked through, so if you feel you want to give counseling a try, know that a good therapist can face even the tough spots of treatment with you.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your thoughts on why therapy gets stuck or how to make it better below!

Watch a video of this blog post here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hibqfFOIOAs

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