You found the courage to speak with a therapist and sort out your problems and struggles but, for some reason, you’re not feeling any better. You did the right thing but it feels like nothing is changing. What in the heck is going on? (Image by Elisa Riva from www.pixabay.com)
The quick answer is- it can be difficult to determine why it feels like you aren’t feeling any better- there are actually heaps of reasons why this may be happening! Sometimes there are some blind-spots though. Let’s check out some hidden things that might be missed- maybe you can relate to one of them!
Therapy Goals: “What brought you to therapy?”
This is a question you might hear when first meeting with your new therapist. People often see a therapist because something isn’t feeling right. Sometimes a person may know what is specifically troublesome to them, like- “I am feeling pretty lonely and it’s not easy for me to make friends. Socializing is tough for me.” This will help a therapist get a decent idea that a potential goal for therapy may be focused on learning to be more comfortable in social situations. It would give both of you something to really look at and come up with treatment options to help.
Another example- “I always feel anxious.” This is a reason that may be a bit broad. It may help to explore this more in depth. (Is anxiety worse while at work or school? Talking to people or even just leaving the house?) If it’s difficult to be more specific, perhaps the therapy will focus on potential reasons why anxiety is being triggered and how to better manage these feelings. It’s easy to assume your therapist will know what you need. Do your best to communicate your goals.
Readiness: “I’m ready to change…or am I?”
Depression and anxiety are some of the top reasons people seek help from a therapist. Sometimes people know they want something to change and someone will nudge them- “You should go see a therapist.” But maybe you haven’t been ready? It’s possible you aren’t even really sure WHAT needs to change, WHY it needs to change, and even HOW it can change. It’s like you signed up for a geometry class and, when you show up, they are actually teaching quantum physics. (For some of us that is a bit heavy!) Therapy is different for everyone- sometimes it's about telling your personal story for the first time and learning how to cope with what you found out was a trigger to anxiety. Sometimes therapy is just learning new ways to cope. So, it’s not always about changing what you are doing- but maybe learning to look at how you feel.
Understand What Therapy Can (and Can’t) Do.
Therapy can help you become the best version of yourself.
Therapy does not guarantee a cure- there is always some work involved.
Therapy is an investment that can help you create valuable tools.
Therapy is not a magic wand- your therapist will not have the answers to every problem.
Therapy can help you build resilience through coping and learning about yourself.
Therapy will take time to undo years and decades of patterned behaviors and emotional pain.
Talk to your therapist about realistic outcomes to learn more about what to expect.
“What you put into it is what you get out of it.”
Yes, therapy is work. Yes, you will need to challenge yourself. If you are canceling or dreading therapy appointments it’s possible you are avoiding the work involved. Try hanging in there and talk about it in session with your therapist. Sometimes we need a break from therapy. Sometimes we need a change in therapy. Ask yourself how much work you have been putting into your own mental health. If you're learning new ways to cope with stress, are you practicing those techniques or using the skills? Sometimes we need to practice new skills over a period of time for them to start helping. (If you were running a marathon, would you only practice for one day?)
Using Therapy Time Effectively
How often are you attending therapy? Weekly? Every other week? Once a month? In the beginning, you will want to strive for one time a week. This will give you and your therapist enough stretch of time to discuss problem-areas and how to work through them. The longer your appointments are stretched out, the more challenging that will be for progress. How so? More than likely lots of events and situations have happened during those two weeks that you will want to discuss. Had a cancellation? Oops, now therapy has gone 3 weeks- adding another week of catch-up.
HOW you use therapy time is equally important. Do you find yourself venting in session often? Are you spending that time unloading all the details of past events? If you decided it would be helpful to make changes, are you working on those things? Therapy is one of the few places we can be vulnerable and look in the mirror at ourselves. It’s an investment, use the time wisely.
Maybe You ARE Making Progress- (but didn’t realize it)
Sometimes it can be challenging to really see changes happening within yourself. Therapy has the ability to help you create a better sense of self-awareness (insight and paying attention to internal cues). Sometimes loved ones or friends might mention seeing a change in you- take note of what they are saying. If part of your struggle has been irritability, a negative mindset may make it difficult to see change. The progress may be noticed in a reduction of symptoms- “I feel less stressed when I socialize.” A more tangible change might be- “I was able to attend a concert for the first time.” (See also above about venting- are you only dwelling on negatives in session or are you taking time to point out positive changes you are making?)
Remember too, these are just some areas to consider if you are feeling stalled in therapy or not feeling any changes. There are many other reasons why it feels therapy is not helping such as- trauma, how long you have been in therapy, how long you have struggled, difficult transitions, etc. The final option, which may be overlooked, is to ask your therapist directly about why you might be feeling stuck. There is a good chance they may be able to help you find some blind spots that are hindering progress.
Rochester Art Therapy is a mental health practice in Rochester, NY. If you are considering a change and looking for a creative treatment option, contact us for a consultation!
Sheilagh is an Artist and Art Therapist who believes in healing with art and creativity.