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What to Do When You Think Therapy is Not Working for You

Shannon M. Duffy, MFT, LCPC

Making the decision to enter therapy is tough enough and we intend to have an overall positive and impactful experience. However, when we get to a place where we feel it is not working for us that can cause more distress and bring on doubt about feeling optimistic towards getting better. Feeling frustrated within therapy can be helpful to assess what is not working and what is working but not at the level you may have been expecting. Many individuals will just stop therapy when they are not getting what they want out of it. Other individuals may switch therapists, and some will just stay and remain frustrated.

Let’s start by assessing is what is creating the feelings of being frustrated. Are you not feeling understood, heard, or validated? Are you feeling pressured to make changes that you may still be contemplating to make? Maybe you are in the process of making changes and the feelings of getting out of your comfort zone are creating the dislike for therapy. Once you gather a few perspectives on what you are experiencing it would be helpful to focus on what your goals are in general for therapy.

Sometimes feeling stuck could indicate the goals that were set may not be specific enough to feel as though any progress has been made. Reassessing what is making you feel “stuck” sometimes is not a bad thing or narrowing in on what your definition is of feeling stuck. Therapy is hard work and you need to put in the effort to progress towards overall wellness. This mindset change could motivate you to do more processing and reflecting at home, and the homework assigned. Feeling stuck can also help evaluate to pursuing lifestyle changes that could better your perception towards feeling better.

It is important to discuss these feelings with your therapist. This could spark a conversation to discuss your goals and intentions for therapy. There are also questions to address such as how long should it take to see results? Have your expectations been too high or unrealistic. Can the therapist address other avenues to take such as adding in homework, maybe taking different therapeutic approaches, or discussing your concerns with a medical professional? If you are not feeling any better overall it could be helpful to address if there is a medical concern or if medication is needed. Also, could be the type of therapy, maybe talk therapy is not working towards past trauma and moving towards Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) as a different approach. Honest communication with the therapist is essential towards finding the best approach towards helping you feel better and that might be wanting to end or pause therapy.

The single best predictor of whether therapy will work is if you and your therapist are a good fit. A therapist who accepts your values, understands your emotions, and who makes you feel accepted and heard is key to a therapeutic relationship. Essential to helping the client connect with, remain in and get the most from therapy. If your therapist isn’t offering you this, it could be time to try someone else. It can happen where you may have grown past your therapist and want to shift gears towards different presenting concerns or goals. It is helpful to interview a few therapists to find one that will align with what you are looking for. Relationship factors to focus on when building a rapport include agreeing on therapy goals, getting client feedback throughout the course of treatment, repairing ruptures, and empathy.

Therapy may not work for everyone and it is helpful to go in with an open mind versus just wanting the quick fix and not wanting to put in the work. Understanding realistic expectations can also provide a sense of commitment towards therapy. Sure, you may enter with the statement of “I don’t want to be anxious anymore.” That’s a place to start however, you may continue to feel anxious again, the goal is to learn to be able to manage it in a successful manner.

If you are looking for a therapist in Chicago, contact Symmetry Counseling.

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