Have you been disappointed with therapy in the past? Maybe you tried it once, but it didn’t feel like it was right for you. Or you went to a few therapy sessions but stopped scheduling follow-ups because you weren’t feeling any better.
But life gets hard again. The idea of seeing a therapist keeps popping up in your mind. You experience anxiety, stress, or depression (or maybe you just feel stuck), but you’re wary of going through going through the same disappointment again. So you grit your teeth and keep chugging along, hoping your issues will sort themselves out on their own.
If you feel like therapy didn’t help in the past, you’re not alone. Since I was a teenager, I’ve tried therapy five separate times. Some of those sessions were helpful, but for the most part, it was nothing to write home about. It took me several attempts over the course of a decade before I finally figured out how to make therapy work for me.
This article covers five reasons why therapy may not have worked for you in the past, and how to approach it instead to see better results. I’m sharing these common mistakes (and how to overcome them) because I want to encourage you to try therapy again if you’ve been thinking about it. My hope is that these tips will help you get more out of therapy, sooner.
Let’s dive in.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or therapist. I’m just someone who went through a bit of trial and error before seeing significant results with therapy. The information on this site does not substitute for professional medical advice. Consult a medical professional if seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment.
Table of Contents
- My trial-and-error experience with therapy
- Why therapy didn’t work in the past (and how to approach it instead)
- One more thing before you go…
My trial-and-error experience with therapy
My first few times in a therapist’s office was as a teenager, when my parents were getting divorced.
After college, I wanted some support after leaving a long-term relationship, so I took advantage of my company’s Employee Assistance Program to get five free sessions with a new therapist. I liked this second therapist, but she eventually stopped being in my insurance network.
I still had some issues I wanted to work through, so I found a third therapist. I met with her every few months for a total of ten times, but I never felt like she “got” me. Something about her made me feel this weird need to impress her and prove I was a “good” client. So I looked for a new therapist.
The fourth therapist I tried was, frankly, the most awkward human being I’ve ever had an interaction with. She was clearly new in the industry and had this awful eyeliner that made me feel like I was talking to a preteen. Now look, I’m about the farthest thing from a makeup snob you can get, but this was just the icing on the cake of the awkward impression she made on me. She was not someone I felt comfortable sharing my deepest fears and anxieties with. Needless to say, I didn’t return after our first session.
Finally, on my fifth attempt, I found a therapist I liked. She was a virtual therapist, so all of our meetings were over video call. But even though we’d never been in a room together, I felt a lot more comfortable with her. She felt like someone I could trust and talk with naturally. With this therapist, I felt like I was actually learning how to better deal with my problems outside of our sessions, not just dealing with my issues on a case-by-case basis.
It took me a few different tries to figure out how to make therapy work for me – to both find a therapist I liked and fix the mistakes I’d been making in how I approached it. If you’re considering trying therapy again, I want you to get to that point faster than I did. Read on and explore the possible reasons why it didn’t work, then give it another shot. You got this.
Here are five possible reasons why therapy didn’t work for you in the past, and why you should try it again.
Why therapy didn’t work in the past (and how to approach it instead)
1. Your therapist wasn’t the right fit for you
If you felt like therapy wasn’t helpful in the past, odds are, you probably didn’t really like your therapist.
I’m not saying you disliked them, but maybe you didn’t feel much of a connection, either. It’s not enough to simply not dislike someone when you’re doing this kind of work. Your therapist shouldn’t feel like your best friend, but they do have to feel like someone you’d naturally have a conversation with.
One of the misconceptions people have about therapy is that all therapists are the same. Once you’ve met one, you’ve met them all. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
I don’t have to tell you that you won’t always get along with everyone you meet. We naturally have more chemistry with some people than others. Some people rub us the wrong way; conversation with them feels awkward or forced, or maybe we just don’t vibe with them for whatever reason.
This is the same with therapists. Yes, all therapists must go through training and get certification. But that doesn’t mean they all walk and talk the same.
Even in a professional setting, we get a sense of a therapist’s personality. One therapist might be quiet and reserved, the other loud and boisterous. Their posture might be formal, or relaxed. They might smile a lot, or be difficult to read. Therapists are still people, at the end of the day. You’re going to gravitate towards some more than others.
We decide whether to like and trust our therapist not because of their diploma, credentials, or professional experience, but because of the impression they make on us as individuals. And if we dislike this person (or something just feels off), all the professional credentials in the world won’t convince us to trust them with our deepest thoughts and feelings.
How to approach therapy instead: Shop around!
Instead of going with the first therapist you meet, shop around for someone you naturally gravitate towards.
Think of finding a therapist as dating – you wouldn’t just blindly marry the first available person you find. Trust your first impression. If a therapist doesn’t click with you, don’t force the relationship, try someone else instead.
Like dating, therapy might be a little awkward at first; it’s not always natural to talk about our feelings! But past that initial discomfort, you should feel a sense of trust and connection with this person on an individual level. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself talking about surface level issues and not trusting what they have to offer, no matter how qualified they are.
2. You didn’t give your therapist feedback
If you didn’t agree with something your therapist said in the past, did you tell them? If their approach wasn’t working for you, or if they steered you towards a subject that wasn’t relevant, did you let them know? Or did you just nod along with everything they said, regardless of whether you it was helpful?
If you didn’t give feedback to your therapist, it would’ve been difficult to get much out of your sessions. For therapy to work, you need to be honest – not just about your emotions, but also about what’s working about therapy and what isn’t.
It took me a while to realize I had to proactively give my therapist feedback. For a while, if my therapist said something that didn’t really land with me, I’d brush it off. If we started a session talking about relationships but I was dying to talk about work, I’d just roll with it. If they offered analysis or a suggestion that didn’t feel right, I’d force myself to take it as truth or swallow my objections. I’d nod along to everything the therapist said, regardless of whether it was helpful, because I didn’t want to embarrass or disrespect them.
Here’s some tough love I had to give myself that I’ll pass onto you: If you feel like you have to agree with everything your therapist says, you’re not working on your issues or getting your needs met, you’re just people pleasing.
My therapy sessions became significantly more helpful once I started telling my therapist when something wasn’t working. Not only did I gain confidence by vocalizing my concerns, but I also started trusting my therapist more because she was eager to hear my feedback and adjust her approach accordingly.
How to approach therapy instead: Give feedback
Therapists are trained professionals. They customize their approach based on the needs of each client. But they’re not always perfect, and they can’t read your mind if something doesn’t feel right. They have no way of knowing if there’s something you disagree with, or if you want to discuss a different topic than what they’ve suggested, if you’re just nodding along.
If something isn’t working for you, give your therapist that feedback! A good therapist will be open to feedback and flexible in trying a few different approaches. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings or making things uncomfortable by telling them something isn’t working. And certainly don’t bottle it in and then give up on therapy altogether.
3. You didn’t trust your therapist
I alluded to this previously, but a big reason why therapy didn’t work for you in the past could be that you didn’t trust your therapist.
If you thought your therapist was judging you, you probably held back emotions that might’ve made them think poorly of you.
If you thought your therapist didn’t actually care about your success (or that they’re just in it for the money), you probably didn’t let yourself open up about deeper issues.
If you thought your therapist was trying to lead you to certain conclusions, you probably filtered the thoughts you shared.
How to approach therapy instead: Trust your therapist!
Now, don’t force yourself to open up to anyone and everyone. You should be hesitant to trust people when it comes to sharing your deepest thoughts and emotions. That gut instinct to protect yourself from people you don’t trust is valid. If you didn’t trust your therapist because you didn’t like them, or they rubbed you the wrong way, or they weren’t receptive to your feedback, by all means, find another therapist.
But once you find a therapist you get along with naturally and are comfortable feedback to, you need to trust that they have your best interests in mind. That means getting out of your own way and not making up stories about why you shouldn’t work on your issues.
If you want to get lasting results from therapy, you need to be able to trust that your therapist isn’t judging you, that they’re invested in your well-being, and that they don’t think they’re better than you. Otherwise you won’t be able to be fully honest or truly make lasting changes in the quality of your life.
4. You weren’t comfortable being uncomfortable
Real talk: Your therapist isn’t going to figure out your problems and fix them for you. You gotta do the work.
Society often touts therapy as a one-stop-shop solution to life’s problems. TV and movies often portray therapists as mentalists and mind-readers.
Our main character walks into the office. The therapist takes a good hard look at them and seems to instantly understand what’s going on. Within minutes, the therapist is revealing things about our character’s past that haunt them, exposing their deepest fears, and telling them their hopes and dreams.
We absorb that messaging and start to think therapy really works that way. Feeling depressed? Go see a therapist! They’ll figure out what’s wrong with you, make you feel better, and you’ll be on your way home feeling good as new.
Obviously that’s a an exaggeration, but the underlying belief is there: therapy is where you go to have your problems fixed, and your therapist is the keeper of the answers to life’s questions. So of course if your issues are still there when you leave, it’s going to feel like therapy didn’t work.
How to approach therapy instead: Own the work
Unlike going to the doctor, where your provider does most of the work to diagnose and treat an issue, the majority of the work done in therapy has to be done by you, the patient
Your therapist facilitates and guides your introspection. Their role isn’t to figure out what’s wrong with you or fix your problems. They might ask questions to explore different perspectives, share patterns they observe, or offer suggestions.
But ultimately, it’s up to you to do the hard parts. You have to be honest about your thoughts and feelings. You have to challenge yourself and your old ways of thinking. You have to be open to change and invested in a better future.
Most of us would rather bury our issues and get on with our day rather than face them. Being vulnerable, admitting our flaws, and facing our demons is hard work.
To get results from therapy, you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Challenge yourself to want more. Push yourself to keep looking under the hood. Decide to be an active participant in your therapy sessions, and be proud every time you choose honesty over comfort.
5. You expected too much too soon
If you tried therapy before, you may have been disappointment by the lack of “progress” after one or two sessions.
This might sound familiar… After months of toying with the idea, you decide to bite the bullet. You find a therapist and schedule a consultation. You finally get to that first therapy session, only to walk out feeling like you barely touched the tip of the iceberg. You come back a second time, but still haven’t made any headway on your problems. You don’t see any results after a few sessions, so you decide therapy isn’t for you.
How to approach therapy instead: Adjust your expectations
Look, you need to go to therapy at least a handful of times for it to start working. It takes time to get comfortable with your therapist and for them to get to know you. It might take a few sessions just to uncover the heart of the matter, let alone come up with solutions.
More importantly, it takes time to change behaviors and thought patters. Even once you have total clarity about why you feel a certain way and what to do about it, it takes a lot of repetition to train yourself to start behaving or thinking differently.
It’s similar to physical therapy: You wouldn’t walk into your PT’s office with a knee injury one day and expect to leave with it completely healed the next, right? Depending on how severe the injury is, you’ll probably need to come in regularly for a few months (and do daily exercises on your own time) before you start seeing progress.
It’s the same with therapy. You’re not going to walk out of your first therapy session feeling like a brand-new person. It’ll take a few sessions to get in a good rhythm with your therapist and get to the core of the issue before you can start incorporating changes and seeing significant differences in your life.
Don’t give up.
If you’re considering trying therapy again after having a negative experience with it, take a moment and just be proud of yourself. You already understand that your well-being is worth the effort of trying again. Don’t give up just because you haven’t found your stride yet.
The truth is, you will benefit more from therapy now than in the past simply because you’ve grown since you last tried.
Think about it, aren’t you a different person than when you first tried therapy? Haven’t you learned some things about yourself? Chances are, you can articulate your thoughts better now. You’re probably more aware of your feelings. You should try therapy again for no other reason than you’ve changed and learned as a result of the experiences you’ve had since the first time.
Go find a therapist you click with naturally. Give them feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. Trust that they’re there for you. Take charge of doing the work. Be patient with the process, and celebrate the small wins along the way.
At the end of the day, therapy is about you. You deserve to live more fully, to grow, and to have more peace in your life. Don’t give up on yourself.
Now I want to hear from you:
Which of these reasons resonated the most with you?
Or maybe you have a reason I didn’t cover.
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below.