Questions like “what do I do when therapy isn’t working?” can be difficult to answer, but there are a few things to consider if you feel like your progress has stalled. Knowing more about the nature of mental health struggles, your own tendencies, and alternative approaches can help you find the answers you’re looking for.
I was in the middle of a conversation, venting to my husband about how this holiday has been extra tough for me to shake the issues with my family. I know he’s sick of hearing me talk about it (because I am even sick of it), so just to find someone to verbally vomit on, I decided to look up therapists to (maybe) help alleviate the pressure I was putting on him.
The weird thing is that intuitively I already knew what I needed to do, but for some reason, momentarily, I felt the need to look up a therapist (until I actually began the search).
(First of all, I need to preface this by saying there is nothing wrong with seeing a therapist or needing a therapist. I really feel like I need to say that because my experience isn’t the experience of many who have found therapy to be extremely beneficial. My experience, on the other hand, has been…well, not. Beneficial, that is.)
Okay, back to looking for a therapist…
So I started searching for a therapist that might fit my needs (what even qualifies someone to just sit there and be a sounding board anyways? I don’t know, but I was looking for it).
After reading the same “I will help you _____ descriptors” by all of these therapists, I couldn’t help but wonder how this is relatable. And how does one pick from a sea of people who do the same thing and write the same fluffy bios about how they are going to help me when I have absolutely no clue about them, their values, or their experience… personal experience (street cred, you know)?
You see, we like to look to “professionals” as if they hold the secrets to life, and have this all-knowing, ever flow of the “right” advice for any situation because relinquishing our intuition and putting our choices into the hands of others relieves us of responsibility.
It’s so much easier to say, “my therapist told me I needed to start dating people again,” than it is to say, “I made the decision to start dating again, and now I’m heartbroken that he left me.”
But herein lies my issue with therapy. If you aren’t in a good state of mind, therapy can turn you into a victim. And if you’re anything like I was, this is dangerous, and I’m going to explain why.
When Therapy isn’t working, Ask yourself, “Does this person have the Same Values as I do?”
Say you have a doctor who is very smart but also overweight. You come in with a problem, and he instantly prescribes medication to alleviate the symptoms.
There’s another doctor down the street who is fit as a fiddle (whatever that means), is extremely experienced in nutrition, and only prescribes medication after first putting you on a nutrition plan that he thinks could alleviate your problems.
Both men are doctors, and both are extremely smart but what makes their approach to healing different is their opinions and the nuanced ways in which each has lived their life because even the most seemingly factual things are still swayed by experience and opinion.
Therefore, knowing the nuanced ways in which a person approaches healing helps you to choose a doctor that is in alignment with your thoughts, ideas, and your belief in healing. Most people wouldn’t ask their single friend with no children for advice on raising kids. Why not? Because they have no fucking clue what it’s like in real life.
So back to the therapy example…the same is true here. In therapy, we don’t get to know them and their life. We don’t get to look in and say, “wow, she’s a great example of a mother I want to be like, so I’m going to see her for parenting advice.” We don’t get that luxury because of “professional distance,” which is bullshit (in my humble opinion).
And this is why there are so many people who report having adverse effects after therapy or see little to no change: because part of getting more emotionally resilient and emotionally well requires that we learn to identify our own solutions through thoughtful self-awareness.
Therapists are humans too. They fuck up the same way we do-they just often don’t share it, or they wait to share it with their therapist, not you. This leads me to why I don’t like the entire paradigm of therapy.
It’s kinda cold and lacks genuine connection.
I have been to more therapists than I care to admit-some forcefully (51/50 is a real thing) and some voluntarily, and there have been times that I seriously felt like I was the soundest person in the room.
For all I know, they could have been living on their parent’s couch, snorting meth on the weekends, popping pills during the week, stuffing their face with big macs, and watching The Simpson reruns just to get through their workweek. It’s true, though. We take profound advice from these people we know absolutely nothing about with the idea that they have our best intentions at heart.
But if I die after one of our sessions, they would only know when they tried to collect on their missed session fee and not a day sooner.
Am I the only one who thinks that’s kinda weird?
Here are two points I want you to consider if therapy isn’t working:
- We must be mindful of who we are getting our advice from and consuming content from. Just because someone can sign their name and have a bunch of letters after it doesn’t entitle them to give advice about your life. When dealing with “professionals,” we often don’t think twice about their recommendations and blindly follow without questioning if it aligns with our value system. So question it.
- We often seek advice outside of ourselves when the majority of our problems can be solved by simply just doing something…anything.
I feel like I need to elaborate on that second one.
So back to searching for a therapist…the words I said to my husband were, “I already know what I need to do, but I just want to talk to someone about it.” So if therapy isn’t working, there’s a possibility that you already know what you should do, and you aren’t doing it (like I wan’t).
That’s a red flag because I’ve already talked about it so much that I’m blue in the face.
If I already know what I need to do, why am I choosing to stay stuck in the same cycle of talking about what I already know I should do? That is insanity. Talking about the problem is cathartic and necessary to sort through feelings and emotions because that will lead us to our needs, but if you keep coming back to the same problem and talking about the same shit, it’s time to move on and DO SOMETHING DIFFERENTLY. This reality could very well be the reason therapy isn’t working for you.
For me, the question that has always held me up has been “how to.” How do I not let it bother me that my family is shitty?
Well, buttercup (this is me talking to myself)…You gotta move on. Find a new community. Surround yourself with people who aren’t shitty. DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. So if you’re even slightly questioning why therapy isn’t working, this is a good place to start…ask yourself, “what have I DONE differently?”
The action part is the most crucial part of change…not talking about it. This is also why many people get stuck in therapy for years on end; they are talking rather than doing something. And odds are that you already know what you should be doing. (And if you don’t, then maybe you should consider a life coach. I outline the differences between therapy and life coaching in this article). You might just be dragging your feet to make those necessary changes because there is an immense amount of discomfort that comes with change.
Question for you to ponder:
- Are those who you look to for advice in alignment with you and your values?
- Are you hoping for a different (and easier) solution to be delivered to you on a silver platter simply because you don’t want to address the solution you already know is the answer?