What To Do When Therapy Doesn’t Work

By To Write Love on Her ArmsJune 16, 2021

Both healing and growth come from processing where we’ve been, moving through the heavy rather than pushing it away, and gaining tools to navigate similar situations in the future. At TWLOHA, it’s safe to say and assume that we believe in the power of counseling. However, we know that therapy is not a perfect solution, nor is it free from challenges, barriers, or issues.

Therapy Isn’t The Same For Everyone

Perhaps you grew up in a household or culture where mental health and therapy were viewed as taboo topics of conversation or concern. On the reverse side of things, maybe you grew up attending sessions as a child or with your entire family present. When it comes to our personal journeys with asking for and receiving professional help, we all have our own valid experiences. The first step though, for all of us, is to acknowledge if and when we need additional support than what is currently available to us.

We firmly believe that mental health and physical health should be treated equally. Both matter. Both deserve our time, attention, and care. Unfortunately, there is a stigma that is far too often present when people discuss or seek treatment for the mental health challenges they or someone they care about are facing. These barriers, such as access to resources, financial affordability, insurance coverage, location, and time, can cause significant difficulties when attempting to find and engage in mental health care. And all of these things can and may very well delay one’s road to healing and recovery.

There are multiple forms, styles, and techniques in regards to counseling, some of which include: cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, behavioral therapy, humanistic therapy, group therapy, art and music therapy, etc. Finding and identifying a particular type of therapy that seems like a good fit for you is a part of the initial process. There is also the matter of locating a professional or practice you feel comfortable and safe with when it comes to speaking openly and honestly about your mental well-being.

We know that all of this can be overwhelming, especially if there is a sense of emergent need. If your current situation requires immediate support, know that Crisis Text Line Counselors can be reached 24/7 by texting TWLOHA to 741741—their services are free and confidential.

Identify Why You Think Therapy Doesn’t Work

If you’ve been attending counseling and you’ve connected with a therapist or counselor and don’t necessarily feel as though the sessions are having a positive impact, we hope you know that you are not a failure. It is OK and perfectly common to find therapy difficult or unhelpful—especially at first. It is also OK to acknowledge if you are unable to connect with the professional you’re seeing. Your experience is valid and true, and not at all odd. To help solidify that perspective, here are some words from our friend Laura that might resonate with you:

“…If I’d stayed with my first therapist, I wouldn’t have gotten better. I think it’s important for people to know that therapy doesn’t always work immediately, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t work ever. Two years ago, I never thought I’d be this happy. I still have bad days—heck, I have bad weeks. After all, I have depression and anxiety. Those things don’t just go away. But I’m so much better. I’m forever thankful that my mom fought for me to find my place in therapy, that I found [my therapist] Paula.

Sometimes it takes time. Recovery isn’t immediate. It takes time. But it’s time well spent. So please don’t give up. Find the right person. Talk to them. Let them help. Work for yourself, for your happiness, your wellbeing, your life. It’s worth it, I promise.”

Verbal processing can be instrumental in determining what it is you hope to achieve through counseling. Knowing what you expect or want to get out of the experience of working with a therapist can be beneficial for you and your counselor. It allows both parties to be aware of where and how progress can be or is being made. When feeling frustrated about your counseling experience, it can be challenging and intimidating to speak up. Articulating your dissatisfaction is sometimes uncomfortable, but bringing your most honest and authentic self to the room can play a key role in shifting the dynamic and your viewpoint on therapy and its efforts (or lack thereof). It can also provide you or your therapist with the opportunity to reassess the situation or consider finding a new space and person to work with.

In an article published in The Huffington Post, therapists discussed how to know if you’re not getting the most out of your sessions and their advice on how to change that. Here they talked about what to do if you’re someone who utilizes therapy as a place to vent and only vent or if you have a tendency to leave out bigger pieces of information or have difficulty practicing advice given by the counselor. Hearing advice from therapists directly for if and when sessions aren’t feeling productive may be beneficial for you.

Talk To Your Therapist and Set Goals

Therapists, although often empathetic and intuitive individuals, are not mind readers. Just like you’d bring up a feeling of contention to a co-worker or family member, it’s OK to share these same hurdles with your counselor. Talk with them directly about what you’d like to see change and shift in your sessions, progress, or work. Being honest and forthright is key when it comes to any relationship, even the ones that happen in a more professional or formal setting. Your counselor should be creating a safe and encouraging environment for you to express what it is you’re feeling and experiencing without judgment. But it is, of course, important to remember that counseling requires energy and effort from all sides.

Find A New Therapist

Ultimately, you have full permission to stop seeing your current therapist and start seeing a new one. For most people, it takes a few sessions with multiple counselors before finding a solid fit. The initial chapter of trial and error can be difficult to endure, but it is usually beneficial in the long run. Though rarely easy, the healing and progress and growth that can be discovered and accomplished through therapy is often remarkable and rewarding.

If you are looking to find a counselor to start your journey of healing or are seeking out a new therapist, we invite you to use our FIND HELP Tool. Simply enter your zip code and the level of care you’re looking for to be directed toward affordable, local options. Additionally, Psychology Today has a counselor locator that is available to anyone.

We know beginning or restarting the process of therapy can be overwhelming. There might be moments where you consider giving up—and that’s OK. In those cases, allow yourself to take a break and a breath. You can start again when you’re ready. And remember: finding a good fit between you and a mental health professional can bring about monumental change, and we are here for you every step of the way.

Additional Resources:

  • Use our FIND HELP Tool to find a counselor near you by entering your zip code.
  • Meru Health x TWLOHA for digital mental health support
  • Access Talkspace for online therapy with a licensed therapist
  • Read about people’s honest experiences with counseling on the TWLOHA Blog.

Important note: Much of the origins and history of counseling hold direct ties to racism. While many working within the field of psychology have denounced previously published works associating certain races with lower or higher intelligence, the root of racial disparity is necessary to address.

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