How do you know when therapy isn't working?

He complains about not being able to make any significant progress and his therapist tells him that he has to process the problem emotionally before he can expect any changes. Your therapist talks a lot and doesn't force you to talk or do new things that will help you progress. Keep in mind that this won't be perfectly linear, and sometimes you can have bad days or even weeks. The declines or plateaus you can witness when you track your symptoms don't mean that your progress has stalled or that therapy isn't working.

It is more important to pay attention to the most important trends and try not to worry about the details of day-to-day changes. Like medication, he says, therapy may take a while to work. You shouldn't be released automatically after a week, unless your therapist is violating your boundaries or giving you other signs that they aren't listening to you. Ideally, therapists get at least two or three sessions before you decide it doesn't work for you.

However, therapy may also lose its effectiveness over time or become unneeded. The best predictor of whether therapy will work is if you and your therapist are a good fit. A therapist who accepts your values, understands your emotions, and who makes you feel accepted and listened to is key to therapy. If your therapist doesn't offer you this, it's time to try it with someone else.

Without much happening without real intensity or vitality, ease eventually turns into boredom, at least for the therapist. If your therapist doesn't know the essential highlights, he or she may use interventions or exercises that may not be the most appropriate for your problem, since they don't have the full history. Sometimes, therapists use objective measurements during the session to help control symptoms and clearly demonstrate improvement. Therapy is a collaborative process in which the therapist guides the client to make changes in their lives.

Some signs that your therapist may be crossing borders include trying to build a sexual relationship or social friendship with you, or using your power to exploit you. There's nothing your therapist can say that could mysteriously reorder things in your brain, making your life better right away. However, I slowly began to get the feeling that I was serving more as a trusted confidant than as a therapist. If you feel uncomfortable talking about certain things, sharing this fact with your therapist can be a good place to start.

In several of my couple's cases, one spouse's individual therapist seemed to have taken such a tough stance in favor of divorce that the client was too embarrassed to continue therapy and attempt to reconcile the marriage. And if your therapist doesn't give you homework, it's time to start asking for them or start working with a therapist who's a little more proactive. If you find that you don't feel well when positive things happen, such as reaching an important goal, because your therapist isn't there to validate them, this could be a sign that you're relying too much on therapy for external validation. Your therapist may not detect your omissions every time, but eventually he will have a general sense that important details are being left out.

You and your therapist can work together on other ways to manage difficult emotions before, during, and after therapy sessions.

Keira Ouellet
Keira Ouellet

Devoted web nerd. Total beer fanatic. Certified zombie expert. Wannabe web trailblazer. Extreme internet geek. Certified internet ninja.

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