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How Perfectionism Interferes with Therapy

IMG_0683Brené Brown reminds us that we often try to feel good enough by “pleasing, performing and perfecting.”  That’s an endless task and we’re left feeling like we haven’t tried hard enough, accomplished enough and produced enough.  So we feel inadequate.

Client:  “I feel like we aren’t doing anything. Why haven’t we processed my trauma yet?” someone will ask me in their second session.

“Well,” I say, “you’re re-experiencing your trauma all the time right now, right?”

“Yes, that’s why I need to get rid of it!”

“But the re-living is traumatic because you don’t yet have the skills to experience it in a safe way.  Once we know that you can remain grounded and present and safe while you are processing the trauma, then you’re ready to do that.” Usually, being on the same page about the progression of trauma therapy is helpful.

In addition to the eagerness to be relieved of symptoms, there is a sense that if therapy isn’t progressing quickly, then it isn’t worth it. It’s one more thing to fail at if it isn’t done well enough. Clients sometimes speak of wasting my time if they aren’t vulnerable enough, insightful enough, learning skills quickly enough.  So then we talk about their feelings of inadequacy.  We watch a video of Brené Brown and I spend some time with their inherit worthiness as clients, women, human beings.

Healing must come from a place of wholeness.  People who feel unworthy of the couch won’t keep showing up.  People who think they don’t deserve to get better won’t do their therapy homework. So for any healing to take place, we have to agree that the person sitting in front of me is enough, just as they are in that moment and paradoxically that sense of “I’m enough” is a driving force to “I can be better.”

How Perfectionism Interferes with Therapy

Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

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APA Reference
Staggs, S. (2014). How Perfectionism Interferes with Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Dec 2014
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