What to do When Therapy Hasn’t Worked

Occasionally I will start seeing a new client who comes in as a skeptic. They will usually explain that they tried therapy “years ago” and it didn’t help, but figured they should try again. The details vary-sometimes they saw their counselor a few times and stopped going, sometimes they went for years and just got frustrated when they felt their life hadn’t changed. I will rarely focus on this detail in the first session-the most important thing is that they’re trying again. However, I do think this is an important idea to look at. Mental health counseling has so many wonderful benefits, it would be a shame to think some people aren’t taking advantage of it because of misinformation.

A common trope in movies that feature topics related to counseling or mental health, is that there is a magic “lightbulb” moment in therapy. One of my favorites, Good Will Hunting, features a scene where the therapist (Robin Williams) and his client (Matt Damon) have this incredibly healing moment when the client finally opens up about some of his childhood abuse. The therapist says something fairly encouraging and simple-but somehow the client is suddenly cured. They show him going off and getting the girl of his dreams and basically elude to him no longer needing therapy and that he’s doing perfectly fine. Wonderful in a movie-just not real life at all.

Most people recognize that movies are fiction and know that things don’t always happen like that, but I think some people have a little bit of hope that that is what counseling is like. Because there might be an idea that at some point they’ll be “cured”, clients become frustrated and believe therapy isn’t working when they still don’t feel “normal”. The job of counseling is to help people manage life. There is no “normal”-there is functioning, there is improvement and there is healthier.

Avoiding the “therapy doesn’t work for me” trap

• Determine what you’re wanting to get out of going to counseling. Work with the counselor to develop specific goals or improvements you want to see.

• Be honest with yourself about your desire and willingness to change and what lengths you will go to achieve these changes.

• If you’ve been seeing the counselor consistently and don’t feel things are improving, talk to them about it. Come up with a game plan of sorts-maybe a different type of therapy, maybe a different counselor is needed.

• Most important-don’t give up! If you decide to change therapists, think about trying one who is a different age or gender.

Just remember that help is available- it’s frustrating to have to change therapists or try different methods of counseling, but your mental health is worth it. If you’re struggling please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to make an appointment with one of our experienced Orlando mental health counselors.


LECS Counselor