Home » Ask the Therapist » Do You Have to Believe in a Technique for It to Work?

Do You Have to Believe in a Technique for It to Work?

Asked by on with 1 answer:

From the U.S.: My PTSD has been difficult to treat and I have often wondered if it is a matter of “belief”;. I understand that trust may be an issue there, but I do trust my therapist and very much respect him, I just think EMDR is bullshit. We’ve tried it 7 times now and I’ve read several books/articles and it just strikes me as Confession for secular people, complete with ritual and sanctification. (I’m sorry, I’m a scientist, if it works by simulating REM, then why don’t we just compare fMRI scans of EMDR and REM? You could even scan the same client!) I want it to work, I’ve tried coaching myself to let it happen, let the process do its thing but it just hasn’t been the “miracle” you read about for me, which is crushing.

We are now trying IFS, which I actually do buy into, but I sensed some doubt from my therapist when I suggested it. So I keep telling myself that it doesn’t matter what he believes, as long as he can facilitate the process effectively, I’m doing the work and I believe it. He is trained and follows the “script”, but every-time we go there, I literally freeze up and glare at him (While inside my head “you don’t believe this, you’re just playing the game, it’s just more bullshit” etc.) We’ve talked about how my inner critic/skeptic has been interfering with pretty much everything, but I still have this feeling that “belief”; may play into it.

I should probably mention that I come from a strict Christian background and am an Evolutionary Biologist, so belief is something I struggle with in general. The nature of my trauma also involves a lot of betrayal and not being believed when I sought help. (I also dismissed Narrative therapy because I didn’t see how just making up a new story changed anything; how does denying reality make one healthy?) I tried appealing to my reason and look for the evidence base and the neuroscience, but human studies are fraught with bias and small sample sizes (the critic even gets in the way science!). How do I get over “belief” and allow it to happen?

Do You Have to Believe in a Technique for It to Work?

Answered by on -


What a good question! You are correct, of course. If you go into every session skeptical about whether it will work, you are focusing on your skepticism, not on the work. That can certainly get in the way of any treatment. It may be that it is your way to avoid dealing with painful material. That kind of avoidance is totally understandable, but it isn’t helping you heal.

On the other hand, just because you are critical doesn’t necessarily mean that you are avoiding. Your skepticism in therapy may only reflect your general approach to life as a scientist.

Fortunately, there are many, many ways to do therapeutic work. So there are at least 2 ways to deal with this impasse:

  1. Ask yourself what would happen if you were to make a leap of faith, suspend disbelief and jump into a particular approach entirely. Think about your answer as honestly as you can. You may discover what you’ve been avoiding. That would be the next topic of conversation with your therapist. Or…
  2. If your answer to that question is simply that it just isn’t working for you, you could explore more evidence-based techniques and find a therapist who is certified in such a technique. Cognitive-behavior therapy, for example, may be a better “fit” for the scientist in you. Find a trained therapist so you won’t be distracted by questions about his or her qualifications.

I applaud your effort to find an approach that works for you. I’m glad you aren’t going through the motions of therapy, but instead want to find a method that is truly compatible with your needs.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Do You Have to Believe in a Technique for It to Work?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). Do You Have to Believe in a Technique for It to Work?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 13 Jan 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.