Is your weekly appointment just a time to vent? What do you do when your therapy seems to be going nowhere?
Chances are you came to therapy because you wanted something you felt you couldn’t achieve on your own. You were unhappy or discouraged; maybe you felt hopeless about your career or relationship. You sought change. So you searched for a therapist, paid your hard-earned money, and started examining your life.
The early stages of therapy are much like a honeymoon. After the excitement of finding someone and getting to know that person, the hard work begins. Unfortunately, many people never make it beyond this period with their therapist. They gain some insight, resolve their situational and surface problems, and hit the road as satisfied customers. But down the road, they discover their problems have re-emerged; depression and old anxieties are resurfacing, or their hopeful new relationship has fallen apart.
Though honeymoon therapy can help resolve particular problems and give you some insight, the underlying psychological issues causing your difficulties are likely to remain untouched. Until they are resolved, the same troubles will continue to dog you.
Folks who hang around in therapy beyond the honeymoon period are apt to gain better results. With the aid of a good therapist, they sustain their hunger for change. What keeps them coming back week after week? They see the payoff in their daily lives and crave more positive growth.
When you have a therapist who challenges and inspires you, confronts your resistances, and helps you deepen your relationships, you always find therapy stimulating. You will look forward to your sessions even during difficult times because you value the process and the transformation it inspires.
Of course, lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and commitment. There are periods when therapy feels sluggish, such as when you’re repeatedly covering the same material. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but if these periods go on for too long, it’s time for you to become more active. To experience a breakthrough, a new understanding of yourself or your situation, you’ll need to demand more of your therapist – and of yourself.
Here are a few questions to help you determine whether your therapy is effective:
- Are you in a different emotional place than when you started therapy?
Are you less anxious or depressed? Have you gained some insight into your problems? Are you making new and smarter choices?
- Are the benefits of therapy appearing in your life?
Are you seeing the results you want? Have your relationships, your career, or family life improved?
- Does your therapist challenge you?
Therapists are trained listeners, but listening isn’t enough. Therapists must also be willing to ask difficult questions, point out unpleasant truths, and, most important, challenge you. If this isn’t happening, your therapist may be more of an enabler than a healer.
- Do you have an active relationship with your therapist?
Do you fight with your shrink? Do you express a wide range of feelings in your sessions — hate, love, frustration, or annoyance? If your sessions are full of emotions, that’s a good sign. But if your sessions are mostly detached, abstract or full of intellectual ramblings, you’ll experience very little emotional growth.
- Have you tried different modalities?
Group therapy is a great choice if you feel your individual sessions have reached a dead end. You may also want to consider couple or family therapy to shake things up.
- Is your therapist a good role model?
Does your therapist practice what he or she preaches? Is your therapist upbeat or a sourpuss? Even though you may not know the details of your therapist’s life, you can always sense the quality of it. Why is this important? People only grow emotionally when their therapists have experienced the same type of growth. Therapists who are constantly on the go and trying new things are good role models for their patients and serve as a source of inspiration. People who feel stagnant in their therapy tend to have therapists who feel stagnant in their own lives.
If you answered no to any of these questions, confront your therapist. After all, you’re paying for your sessions, aren’t you? That makes you your therapist’s employer. Ask why you aren’t making the progress you want. Be direct and don’t accept vague, ambiguous answers.
Therapists are not paid friends. If your therapist isn’t delivering the goods, it’s up to you to do something about it. Remember, you only get out of therapy what you put into it. Sitting around in therapy and waiting for your therapist to cure you will get you nowhere. The more assertive you are, the more progress you will see in your daily life.
Therapy session photo available from Shutterstock