What to do when therapy does not work?
I have been approached by many people, saying that therapy is not working for them and they don’t know what else to do. They have also tried combining therapy with medicines and still see no change. Mental illness is still considered a first world problem by many out there. It takes time for someone to finally agree to see a therapy and when it does not yield results; it can break you.
I am here to tell you that therapy might not work the same for everyone. But this does not mean that you cannot be helped.
We will first tackle the question – Why?
Why is it that therapy might not work for everyone? There are a couple of reasons!
- Your therapist might not be taking the right therapeutic approach for you:
Different people respond to different types of therapy and the same approach might not work the same over a spectrum. It could be that your particular therapist lacks the training required to tackle your issue and is not able to adjust their approach based on the individual’s problem. This is okay. You can always bring this to their notice and ask for next steps.
- The client only wants to rant:
A lot of people think of therapy as a place to go and vent out one’s problems. While discussing one’s problem is a huge part of therapy, therapy is also about the client working on those problems and making progress. It’s about change! This could be with the help of exercises, homework, lifestyle changes or simply listening to what your therapist has to say with an open mind.
- Therapist and client don’t share a good rapport:
Therapists are always asked to practice empathy and have a positive transference towards their clients. There have been instances where the therapist and client are simply not a good fit for each other. The therapist may realize that he/she is not able to help this person progress any further and will then refer them to someone who can be a better interpersonal fit.
- The client doesn’t open up:
Therapy is considered as a last resort by many because of the stigma. Sometimes, people are forced to go for therapy and don’t actually want to be there. They don’t cooperate with the therapist and are not completely honest. People also experience shame or anxiety when discussing their problematic behaviour and only tell part of the story. This prevents proper diagnosis. People need to understand that this is a safe space, it is a place where you don’t have to pretend. You can be vulnerable without being ashamed.
- Clients drop out of treatment:
There could be a number of reasons for a client to drop out of treatment. It could be because they don’t have the money to afford therapy, believe that therapy is not helping or it is hard work. They might also stop taking medication and this may lead to a relapse which can indeed be very dangerous.
- Negative associations with therapy:
People who have never been to therapy might have a negative preconceived notion about it. This can sabotage therapeutic success. For e.g., if the client thinks that it is the therapist’s job to “fix” him or “cure” him within a few weeks, this will affect their perception of therapy and lead to failure.
What do we do if we feel that therapy is not working for us?
- Talk to your therapist:
It is very important to be honest with your therapist about your progress. If you feel that the current approach has left you stagnant, tell your therapist about it. Do not rant about it to your friends and family members, they wouldn’t know what to do. The best person to give you directions would be your therapist. He/she may change their treatment approach or refer you to someone else.
- Do your homework:
Therapy is not magic. It requires diligence and hard work from both ends. If the client doesn’t want to get better, he will never try and this would be a wastage of time for everyone involved. You will never learn Math or English and get better at it if you don’t do your homework. Similarly, you will not see results if you don’t do your therapy homework. Complete all assignments and exercises given to you by your therapist. If they are not giving you homework, ask for it!
- Have patience:
Therapists can’t remove all the problems from your life. This is not how therapy works. It doesn’t make your problems disappear, rather it equips you to go out there and solve those problems for yourself. It takes time and effort. The results also differ from person to person. You need to work on yourself and your emotions, you need to be ready to open up about your actions and problematic behaviours. You need to be patient with yourself and the process. You need to trust.
- Pursue lifestyle changes:
This has helped me a lot, personally. My therapist is a brilliant lady, she told me that I will never get better if I don’t make some major lifestyle changes. I used to sleep around 3 AM and would wake up at noon. This had been going on for a while and it took a major toll on my body and mind. I started suffering from insomnia which in turn led to me having anxiety attacks almost every night.
Medication works as a short-term fix. So, eventually I had to make some tough lifestyle changes in order to get better. This included:
- Sleeping and waking up on time.
- Getting a good night’s sleep (7 – 8 hours)
- Eating better
- Taking some time out to develop a proper schedule and planning my day.
- No screens before bed (keeping the phone away 1 hour prior to bedtime)
- Meditation or yoga! or just taking out 5 mins to slow down and focus on my breathing.
- Try a new therapist:
I understand that it is difficult to change your therapist, start from scratch and talk about your issues all over again with someone new. But mental illness is just like any other health condition. If you have a heart disease and a particular treatment doesn’t work for you, do you throw a fit and give up? No, you try another treatment because you WANT to get better. It should be the same with therapy. Why would you want to compromise with your mind? If one type of therapy fails, there are plenty of other options.
Change your therapist if the following has not been established:
- Realistic goals and milestones haven’t been set in order to measure progress.
- They have not talked to you about the treatment and what is in store for you.
- They haven’t had a conversation with you about medication or if it’s needed.
- Talk to your doctor about medication:
If therapy alone is not working for you, you might need to start taking medicines too. If you are already on medication and it’s not getting better, you may have to increase the dosage or switch medicines completely. Talk to your doctor about these next steps, do not stop taking medicines or increase the dosage without consulting your doctor.
- If one treatment doesn’t work, don’t give up!
- Don’t resist the idea of taking medication and be responsible with it.
- Never stop medication on your own, always consult your doctor.
- Work closely with your doctor to find the correct treatment for you.
- Be honest with your doctor!
If you are planning to go for therapy or are looking to change your approach, remember!
- Therapy is not going to show instant results, you will have to work.
- Therapy is NOT an easy fix. If you have taken the decision to go for therapy, I applaud you. You have finally decided to confront your issues instead of taking the easy road.
- Therapy is not going to change your personality but it will optimize you. It will help you introspect and better understand your inner self.
- Therapy can’t change other people in your life but it will change how you respond to them and external situations.
- Success and failure are subjective. I don’t think therapy ever fails. You learn something new from every person you meet, every therapist you see and every time you fail.
It is a long process but with the right kind of help, you will get through it.
Hope this was helpful. How has therapy helped you? Do let us know in the comment section!