September 4


When Therapy Doesn’t Work: What To Do Next

By Joshua Turner

September 4, 2023

When seeking therapy, we often have high expectations of the process. We hope it will help us overcome our struggles and lead a healthier life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work as we expect it to. Despite the best efforts of both the therapist and the patient, sometimes progress could be faster, or it simply doesn’t happen.

It may not work for many reasons, and it’s essential to understand these factors to make the most of the experience.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the reasons it may not be effective and what you can do if you find yourself in this situation. From exploring alternative treatments to finding a new counselor, we’ll provide you with some practical steps to take if you’re struggling to progress in therapy.

Key Takeaways

  • Therapy doesn’t always work as we expect it to, and many factors can impact its effectiveness.
  • If you struggle to progress in therapy, it’s important to explore alternative treatments and consider finding a new therapist.
  • It is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and it may take some trial and error to find the right approach for you.

Understanding Therapy

What Is Therapy

Therapy aims to help individuals overcome emotional, psychological, or behavioral issues. It is a collaborative process between a counselor and a client, where the counselor provides a safe and non-judgmental space for the client to explore their thoughts and feelings.

It can help individuals gain insight into their problems, develop coping strategies, and improve their well-being.

Type of Therapy

There are different types, and each approach has its own set of techniques and goals. Some of the most common types include:

Role of a Therapist

The role of a therapist is to provide a supportive and non-judgmental environment for the client to explore their thoughts and feelings. They help clients identify their goals and develop strategies to achieve them. A counselor may also provide guidance, feedback, and support.

It’s important to note that therapeutic intervention is not a one-size-fits-all solution; not all individuals may benefit from it. However, understanding the different types and the role of a counselor can help individuals decide whether it is right for them.

When Therapy Doesn’t Work

Signs of Therapy Not Working

Here are some signs that therapy might not be working:

  • You don’t feel like you are making progress towards your goals
  • You don’t feel like you are connecting with your therapist
  • You feel like you are stuck in the same patterns of behavior and thought
  • You feel like you are not being heard or understood

If you are experiencing any of these signs, it might be time to have an open and honest conversation with your counselor about your feelings.


Misconceptions About Therapy

Many misconceptions about therapy can contribute to it not working. Here are a few:

  • It is a quick fix: It is a process that takes time and effort. It’s not a magic solution that will solve all your problems overnight.
  • It is only for people with mental illness: It can be helpful for anyone who wants to improve their mental health, regardless of whether or not they have a mental illness.
  • They will tell you what to do: A counselor is there to help you explore your thoughts and feelings and develop your solutions. They won’t tell you what to do.

Understanding these misconceptions and having realistic expectations can help you get the most out of treatment.

Factors Affecting Therapy Success

Client-Therapist Relationship

The client-therapist relationship is one of the most vital factors that affect the success of therapy. A positive relationship built on trust and mutual respect can enhance the therapeutic experience, while a negative one can hinder progress.

The counselor needs to establish a safe and supportive environment where the client feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Homework and Skills

Clients who actively engage in homework and practice new skills outside sessions are likelier to experience positive outcomes. Therapists should provide clear and achievable assignments and help clients develop the skills needed to implement them.

Setting Goals

Goals provide direction and motivation and help clients track progress. Counselors must work collaboratively with clients to set realistic and achievable goals relevant to their specific needs and concerns.

Therapeutic Alliance

The therapeutic alliance is the collaborative relationship between the professional and the client. A solid therapeutic partnership is characterized by mutual respect, trust, and open communication. Counselors must be attuned to the client’s needs and preferences and flexible in their approach.

Impact of Mental Health Conditions


Depression is a common mental health condition that can significantly impact a person’s life. It can cause feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness and affect a person’s ability to function daily.

When treatment doesn’t work for depression, it can be because the person is not receiving the proper intervention or medication. Working with a mental health professional to find the most effective treatment plan for each individual is critical.

Stress and Anger

Stress and anger are also common mental health conditions that can affect a person’s life. When intervention doesn’t work for stress and anger, it can be because the person is not addressing the underlying causes of their emotions.

Identify the triggers causing the stress and anger and develop coping strategies to manage them. This can include relaxation techniques, mindfulness practices, and communication skills.


Addiction is a complex mental health condition. When treatment doesn’t work for addiction, it can be because the person is not receiving the correct intervention or medication.

Work with a mental health professional specializing in addiction to develop a treatment plan that addresses the underlying causes of the addiction and provides the necessary support and resources for recovery.

Role of Medication in Therapy


Medication Side Effects

When used appropriately, medication can be an effective tool in treating mental health conditions. However, consider the potential side effects of medication.

Common side effects of psychiatric medications include drowsiness, weight gain, and sexual dysfunction. Discuss potential side effects with your healthcare provider and weigh the benefits and risks of medicines before starting treatment.

When to Consider Medication

Medication may be considered when intervention alone is ineffective in treating mental health conditions. It’s important to note that medication should not be the first line of treatment but be used in conjunction with therapeutic intervention.

Your healthcare provider may recommend medication if you have severe symptoms, have not responded to interventions alone, or have a condition not well-managed with therapy alone.

Exploring Alternatives to Therapy

Lifestyle Changes

Making a few lifestyle changes can be an effective alternative. Simple things like getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly can significantly impact one’s mental health. Reducing alcohol and drug use, avoiding stressful situations, and engaging in enjoyable activities can also help.

Yoga and Meditation

Yoga and meditation are great alternatives. They can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Research has shown that yoga and meditation can improve one’s mental health and well-being. Practicing yoga and meditation regularly can also help one feel more relaxed, focused, and present.

Seeking Help from Family Member or Friend

Talking to a family member or friend can be a great alternative. Sometimes, all one needs is someone to listen to them without judgment. Family members and friends can offer emotional support and guidance. They can also help one identify and address any underlying issues causing their mental health problems.

Choosing a New Therapist or Treatment

Trust and Communication

It’s important to consider seeking a new counselor or treatment when therapy doesn’t work. Trust is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a new therapist.

Trust is built over time and is essential for effective treatment. Find a professional you feel comfortable with and can trust to guide you through the process.

Communication is also key. You should feel able to communicate openly and honestly with your counselor without fear of judgment or criticism.

Expectations and Hard Work

Set realistic expectations when starting treatment. It is hard work and it takes time to see results. You should also be willing to put in the effort and work towards your goals outside of sessions. It may be time to re-evaluate your expectations and plans if you feel you’re not progressing. Be open and honest with your counselor about your progress and any concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some alternative options if therapy doesn’t seem to be working?

You could try a different therapist, a different type of intervention, or even a different approach to treatment altogether. It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and what works for one person may not work for another.

How long should I allow therapy to work before considering other options?

Some people may start to see progress after just a few sessions, while others may need several months or even years of treatment before feeling better. If you’re frustrated or discouraged, talking to your counselor about your concerns and exploring other options is okay.

What are some signs that therapy may not be the best fit for me?

Some signs that it may not be the best fit for you include feeling uncomfortable or unsafe with your counselor, not feeling heard or understood, or not seeing any improvement in your symptoms. Trust your instincts and communicate your concerns so that you can work together to find a better solution.

What should I do if I don’t feel comfortable with my therapist?

You could talk to your counselor directly or ask to switch to a different professional within the same practice. It should be a safe and supportive space; you deserve to feel comfortable and heard.

Are there any specific types of therapy that may be more effective for my needs?

Some types that may be more effective for specific issues include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety and depression, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for borderline personality disorder, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) for trauma.

How can I communicate my concerns about therapy to my therapist in a productive way?

You could schedule a separate session to discuss your concerns or write down your thoughts and feelings beforehand to help organize your thoughts. It is a collaborative process, and your counselor is there to support you and help you achieve your goals.

You might also like