Signs Therapy May Not Be Working For You And What To Do About It

If you have been courageous enough to seek resources to improve your mental health, you know how challenging it can be to simply get started. From getting your healthcare coverage sorted out to finding a therapist accepting new patients, the process can be downright daunting.

According to a 2018 study published by the Cohen Veterans Network and National Council for Mental Wellbeing, 56% of Americans are seeking mental health services for either themselves or a loved one. Additionally, 76% believe that mental health is just as critical as physical health. However, 74% do not consider mental health resources to be widely accessible, and 47% call the options limited at best. Some of the notable barriers to mental health assistance include insufficient insurance coverage, cost, and long wait times.

If you're fortunate enough to have a therapist, you might feel guilty if you're doubting its benefits, given the number of people who lack mental health resources. However, your gut instinct may be right, and your current therapy arrangement might not be the right fit for you. Here is how to determine if it's time to move on from your therapist, as well as how to do it without burning any bridges.

Your therapist should take the time to get to know you

Some people want to fix problems as soon as they see them, regardless of how small or large they may be. This urgency to help, however, doesn't always translate well to others, especially if a person is already hesitant to trust strangers or unwilling to be vulnerable. When these types of people head down the therapy career path, it can create a messy situation for their patients, as Oprah Daily explains. Licensed psychotherapist Erick Sandstad told the publication that the urgency to fix problems immediately should be perceived as a "red flag" by patients.

Ideally, a therapist should take the time to get to know you, as well as your situation and any problems you may be experiencing. If they try to fit you into a pre-created treatment plan right away, there's a good chance that your arrangement won't work out. Once your therapy sessions begin to fall short of providing benefits, you have a perfectly valid reason to politely sever ties with your therapist. In the process, don't hesitate to provide constructive criticism; the therapist may be entirely unaware of these underlying issues. With your feedback, they can make improvements to help future patients.

You might need a different type of therapy

Commonly referred to as talk therapy, the National Alliance on Mental Illness recognizes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as one of the most popular types of psychotherapy. Its foundation is based on the concept of identifying negative thinking patterns and altering them to create more positive beliefs. However, it's worth noting that there are actually more than 100 types of therapy, according to Mental Health Match. These include everything from art therapy, which involves using art for emotional expression, to attachment-based therapy, which focuses on examining the caregiver bonds you developed early in life. Depending on your mental health symptoms and past experiences, your current therapy arrangement may not be targeting the underlying causes of your issues.

While there is no definitive guide to determining what type of therapy is best for you, educating yourself on the different options is a good place to start. Don't forget to consider outlying factors as well, such as whether you prefer in-person sessions, one-on-one therapy versus group therapy, and the specific life issues or symptoms you want to address. In the end, the therapist you choose should be open to establishing a foundation of trust and communication.

There is no place for judgment in therapy

There is no place for judgment in therapy. That being said, you have every right to question your arrangement if you feel judged in your sessions. Similarly, part of your therapist's job is to support your goals and dreams, not question or invalidate them. These can all be interpreted as red flags.

Generally speaking, a therapist may not agree with you on every matter 100% of the time, but the objective should be to have an open, honest discussion about it. As clinical psychologist Liana Georgoulis told HuffPost, your therapist might tell you things you don't always want to hear. However, they have a responsibility to help and take action if you are in a situation that becomes dangerous to your health.

Going to therapy isn't always a pleasant experience, but keep in mind that you should not leave every session feeling worse than before. If this is the case in your arrangement, it might be time to look for another therapist. As Healthline notes, don't be afraid of hurting their feelings if your needs aren't being met. Additionally, you don't need any sort of permission to end your arrangement with your therapist.

Professionalism is paramount in any therapy arrangement

It's every therapist's responsibility to be professional with their patients. This means not only keeping scheduled appointments but also remembering facts and background context about your life that are critical to your treatment. In the event that you're constantly reminding your therapist about past discussions, you may want to take a step back and reevaluate your arrangement.

"If that happens every session, that might be a sign that you want to get a therapist that's more organized or more attentive," clinical psychologist Chloe Carmichael told HuffPost. "You shouldn't have to lead the therapist."

If you decide you don't want to continue your relationship with your therapist, you don't need to go into extensive details about why you're ending the arrangement. "You don't owe your therapist a long or involved explanation, just the courtesy of a goodbye," psychologist Dr. Susan Mecca told PsychCentral. The means of communication you use is your decision as well, whether you do it by phone, email, or text. Just make it a point to cancel any upcoming appointments in advance for courtesy's sake, and express any appreciation you have for the time they dedicated to your mental health journey.

You should be the leader in your therapy sessions

Even if you're not used to taking the wheel, it's necessary to do so in therapy, where you are the one who is supposed to be receiving the benefits. For example, your therapist should not be choosing the topic of discussion in every session or leading the charge — your arrangement is meant to be a partnership. "The therapist's role is to give the client back their autonomy right from the start," licensed psychotherapist Erick Sandstad told Oprah Daily. "Your therapist should be asking things like, 'What would you like to focus on in your session?' The clinician holds a map of interpretation for the session, but the client should take the driver's seat."

If you often leave your therapy sessions feeling like you didn't discuss topics that were at the top of your mind, don't hesitate to bring this to your therapist's attention. They may be unaware that they aren't giving you enough time and space to address your primary concerns. Together, you might be able to collaborate to make better use of your time during each session. If your therapist seems unwilling to make these changes, it could mean you need to start looking elsewhere for therapy.

How to determine if therapy is really working for you

It can be hard to determine if your therapy arrangement is really working for you. Many people become hung up on the idea that there is a certain time period they should consider before ending an arrangement. However, the American Psychological Association notes that the length of treatment for any psychological issue varies depending on each person. Often, a therapy arrangement ends once both the patient and therapist mutually agree that they have accomplished the patient's goals.

Some clinical research suggests that those with personality-related conditions or co-occurring diagnoses might require longer therapy — at least 12 months — in order for it to be effective. On the flip side, cognitive behavioral treatment for tackling specific issues usually occurs over a shorter period of time. If you're unsure of whether therapy is working for you, don't hesitate to address the issue with your therapist. They can help you identify potential solutions or even help you find a new therapist if necessary.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.