As it becomes more common and easier to talk about mental health-related issues, more and more people are seeking support from mental health professionals. However, many people are still uncertain or wary of the process and are unsure about whether or not therapy will work for them.
At the risk of sounding biased, I firmly believe we can all benefit from the support, perspective, and guidance of an objective, competent, and specialized professional for various issues at different points in our lives. This is true for any area of life with which we are struggling – physical health (physician), our taxes (accountant), selling a home (realtor), or our emotional health (psychologist/clinical counsellor).
Research indicates that individuals with the most common types of psychological concerns (i.e., uncomplicated depression, anxiety, and relationship difficulties) experience significant benefit after an average of 12 to 16 treatment sessions. Individuals with more complicated histories or concerns (such as childhood history of trauma or chronic suicidality) experience benefit with about 24 sessions.
But, what if you’ve already started therapy and are feeling like it isn’t working for you?
It is wise to pay attention to the feeling you have that your current therapy is not helping, as that is giving you an important message that you need to do something different.
The beneficial impact of therapy is dependent on a number of important factors. Here are a few things to consider:
1. The professional relationship
As with any other relationship with a professional, a good fit between you and the service provider is important. Even more so with a therapist/client relationship, given that people are exposing themselves emotionally and are addressing issues such as fears, insecurities, and other core vulnerabilities. Things to keep in mind when assessing fit with a psychologist or other mental health professional are their approach, style, and personality.
2. Consider the issues you came to therapy to address
Some practitioners have specialized areas of focus in terms of the types of clients and treatment modalities they use, whereas others are more general. Consider why you came to therapy and find out if the therapist you are seeing has expertise in dealing with your specific issues.
3. Competence levels
In every single profession, individuals range in terms of their competence levels. Ensure the psychologist is up to date on advances in treatment approaches and takes an evidence-based treatment approach (which means providing treatment techniques that research has shown are effective). Ask the psychologist directly about the types of treatment approaches they use and the rationale for them.
4. Communicate your feelings about treatment to the psychologist
A good psychologist will not get defensive, and will openly address your frustration with the lack of progress. They should suggest a different treatment approach, or suggest an alternate type of treatment and/or alternate professional.
If, after considering the above, you feel that there are still no shifts or improvements, I would suggest seeking out a different provider, rather than giving up on therapy – as the research is very clear: therapy works!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published as part of a Globe and Mail “Ask the Psychologist” column authored by Dr. Samra, and has been edited and updated.
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