Reasons, such as lack of trust or feeling misunderstood, may make you feel like therapy isn’t helping. Here’s how you can improve your experience.
There are many reasons why therapy may not be working for you. Your therapist, the type of therapy they provide, and how they relate to you may be the reasons. You also may not be ready to engage in the process that therapy requires.
Some common misconceptions about therapy are that your therapist should give you advice or that therapy is a cure-all. Therapy is a collaborative process where the therapist guides the client to make changes in their life.
Understanding the purpose of treatment and each person’s role in therapy may help you get the support you desire.
Therapy may not work for you if you and your therapist aren’t a good match. For example, you may ask, “Does this therapist have experience treating the primary concerns that brought me to therapy?”
If you don’t know, it’s always OK to ask about their training and experience and if they have treated clients with similar concerns.
In addition to being potentially outside their area of expertise, some therapists may try to push their agendas or a treatment goal that the client does not share.
Assertive communication may be helpful in this situation, so you are both on the same page.
A 2021 study with 218 adults showed positive therapeutic outcomes when researchers matched clients to therapists with strong track records of treating their primary concerns.
Therapy requires work from both the therapist and the client. While it isn’t the therapist’s job to give you advice, therapists often teach you skills or make suggestions that may be helpful to implement to reach your goals.
You may have trouble opening up to do the work, or feel that your therapist leads you astray.
Try to keep an open mind and consider speaking with your therapist to identify your role in therapy.
Therapists are there to provide a nonjudgmental objective lens. If you don’t trust your therapist, you probably haven’t created a solid therapeutic alliance.
Trusting your therapist means you can be honest and genuine with them in therapy. If you don’t have that rapport built with your therapist, it is more challenging to move forward.
Remember, therapists do have to keep what you say in therapy confidential except if you:
- might be a harm to yourself or others
- say anything that makes the therapist suspect there’s an abuse of a child, an elder, or a protected population
- have a court-ordered subpoena for your records
- sign a release of information form to the party of your choice
- are a minor, and your parents have a right to know about your treatment
You may feel like you aren’t getting what you need from your therapy experience if you don’t know what to expect.
If this is your first time in therapy, it may be a little scary because you don’t know how the process works.
But an effective therapist should tell you what therapy is and how it works. Consider working together to set goals for what you want to get out of your experience.
If your therapist crosses your ethical and professional boundaries, this may signify that therapy doesn’t work for you. Therapists have an ethical duty to “do no harm.”
Some signs that your therapist may be crossing boundaries include attempting to engage in a sexual relationship or social friendship with you, or using their power to exploit you.
The above are some examples of boundary violations that can cause significant harm and interfere with your therapist’s ability to be objective. Some boundary violations are illegal and can cause substantial ramifications for the therapist.
Similar to boundary violations, your therapist could be exhibiting unethical behavior that causes harm.
Some examples of unethical therapist behavior include:
- misrepresenting education or licensure
- practicing outside their scope of practice
- violating confidentiality
- abandoning their clients
Depending on the situation, dealing with unethical therapist behaviors looks different. Some behaviors may call for a discussion with your therapist, and others may require a report to their licensing board.
Consistency is key to meeting your therapeutic goals. If you have a therapist who constantly cancels on you or doesn’t show up for several sessions, this can be a barrier to achieving goals.
For example, if your therapist asks you to reflect on something or gives you homework. If you don’t show back up for a session for a few months, your therapist may suggest new treatment goals.
If your therapist doesn’t understand or isn’t willing to understand, this can disrupt your therapeutic relationship and progress.
Part of being a good therapist is understanding the client’s world. If a therapist dismisses or shows an unwillingness to understand cultural factors, this demonstrates that you may need to pair yourself with a therapist who can understand your world.
Seeking out a therapist with adequate cultural knowledge may be part of finding a therapist or switching your therapist.
If therapy isn’t working for you, you don’t have to continue in a situation that feels uncomfortable for you.
Making changes relevant to the situation can help you resolve the problem and potentially help you get what you need out of the therapeutic process.
If you’re a client, you can try to:
- Ask questions.
- Express your feelings honestly and assertively.
- Ask for a referral to a different therapist.
- Find a different therapist on your own.
- Make a report to your therapists’ licensing board.
If you’re a therapist, you can try to:
- Seek consultation.
- Reevaluate goals collaboratively with your client.
- Improve your skills and education.
- Refer your client out.
Finding a therapist takes time, but help is available. If you’re looking for a new therapist, Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help you.