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Treatment: 15 Reasons Therapy Isn’t Working

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What has therapy been like for you (or someone you know)? Do you have positive or negative experiences to draw from? Sadly, many of my current clients have shared their negative experiences of counseling with me. In many of the cases I hear, I notice not only unethical behavior from the therapist, but also uncaring behaviors.

I absolutely love my field and I love people. I want to give them the support they need. But, unfortunately, there are some therapists in my field who are inexperienced, poorly trained, or even uncaring. As a result, therapy is not likely to work for people who see these therapists. Even more, therapy may not work for a host of other reasons as well and the fault isn’t always that of the therapist.

This article will mention a few reasons why you may not be benefiting from therapy. I hope this article encourages you to explore the potential barriers. 


Some reasons you may not be benefiting from therapy include but are not limited to:

  1. You aren’t giving it enough time: Some people come to therapy with the hope that sessions will include treatments that will work fast. A common preconceived notion in therapy is that only a few sessions will be needed to resolve an issue. Although counseling can be solution-focused and brief (depending on the challenge you may be struggling with), most therapy takes time, patience, and dedication. You must give it time to work.
  2. You are hiding behind barriers and walls: Hiding is something I strongly believe we all do from time to time in this life, but for different reasons. For some people, “hiding” is a protective mechanism from the cruel world or from a reality that is too painful to accept. For others, “hiding” is an attempt to get over on people and deceive others. Either way, “hiding” is not going to make therapy useful and will waste your time and your therapist’s time.
  3. You are afraid and don’t trust easily: Individuals who have struggled with trauma histories find themselves struggling in therapy. The struggle may be the result of fear, unresolved emotions, or trouble trusting the therapist. When you experience feelings that may become barriers to treatment, you may benefit from sharing this with your therapist and exploring how to get around your challenges with trust and fear. Trusting others and fearing an outcome can really hold us hostage in this life. Don’t allow yourself to stay stuck. Explore why you are afraid.
  4. You are generalizing a previous experience to your current one: If you had a negative experience in the past with a therapist, you are likely to generalize that experience to a current therapist. If you find yourself doing this, explore some possible reasons. Do you need to change therapists? Do you hold a preconceived notion about your therapist? Are you looking for an excuse to get out of therapy?
  5. You are hiding your true feelings and needs: Some clients  “hide” from the therapist by putting on a brave face or trying to display positivity when they are feeling negative. You don’t have to do this. Therapy is about chipping away at lies, denial, or hidden truths. If you feel you are hiding, talk to your therapist about this and try to learn ways to be open.
  6. You would rather deny, minimize, or ignore: People who would rather not look at the truth and have lived in denial for long periods of time, will not benefit from therapy. Therapy is a process that requires honesty, openness, and vulnerability. If you are unable or unwilling to explore a situation you are struggling with, therapy is a waste of time.
  7. You’re not seeing the right person: Sometimes therapists and clients don’t get along and aren’t ever going to connect. That’s okay. We don’t connect with every single person we meet. You have the right to move on. I do encourage you to inform your therapist that you aren’t getting what you are seeking out of therapy. Complete their termination or discharge forms and move on. Ask for copies of your file if needed or have your new therapist request records for continuity of care. Also be mindful that your therapist has the right to do the same. They have the right to discuss the relationship and refer you to someone else.
  8. You haven’t built rapport: Therapy is all about connection and if you aren’t connecting with your therapist, you should move on (respectfully and kindly, that is). A therapist’s job is to find a way to connect with you and engage with you on a level where you feel understood. Your job, as the client, is to be open to the therapist’s attempt to build rapport. But if none of this is happening, you aren’t likely to benefit.
  9. You’re afraid of the truth: Some people who fear the truth will not benefit from therapy. Some therapists, such as myself, do not cut corners or lie to the client. We tell the truth and sometimes the truth hurts. Clients who are not ready to hear the truth are going to struggle in therapy. Therapy is likely to become a “battle” or “wrestling match” between the therapist and the client. Clients often begin to challenge the therapist or undermine their skills. Other clients may simply drop out of therapy.
  10. You feel therapy is a waste of time: When someone feels therapy is a waste of time, it will be a waste of time. Not only is this a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it is also based on the thought that therapy isn’t helpful or useful to anyone. I have met many fathers who feel their sons do not need to be in therapy because “it doesn’t work.” The mothers disagree and have forced the issue. Sadly, the child may begin to believe therapy is useless based entirely on the father’s belief system. If an adult (especially a parent) feels therapy won’t work, it won’t work. The individual is likely to stay stuck and not succeed.
  11. You’re not ready: You can’t benefit from therapy if you are not ready. If you are not ready to open up, explore, learn, and grow in therapy, you are wasting your time and energy. No matter how much you may want to get through therapy or your loved one may want you to be in therapy, it isn’t going to work. You, the client, must have your own goals for getting better or improving. Sometimes you can “warm up” but other times you won’t until you are ready.
  12. You’re feeling forced or pushed: No one ever wants to feel forced or pushed to attend therapy. How are you going to benefit if you don’t want to be there? When I worked in a juvenile delinquent center and residential program a few years ago, many of the teen boys adjudicated delinquent were forced by the prison system to attend therapy or substance abuse treatment. Many of these males engaged in re-offending within months of “successfully completing therapy” or stopped coming. One of the major barriers to therapy for this group is being forced to go to therapy.
  13. You feel all alone and unsupported: If you feel lonely in your pursuit of therapy or unsupported by family or friends, you may begin to feel therapy is a waste of time and that it isn’t worth your energy. It is often very helpful if clients have a loved one accompany them to sessions, even if it is just to sit in the waiting area.
  14. Life is too busy for you: For most people in today’s world, life is simply too busy for them to settle down and benefit fully from therapy. For single parents, seeking therapy is on the back-burner when kids need to be driven to events, taken to school, taken to the doctor, etc. Although I don’t work with a lot of adult clients, when I do, I notice that it is difficult for them to take time for themselves to engage in therapy. Cancellation or rescheduling is likely to occur.
  15. Your symptoms are getting in the way: I often explain to my clients the importance of tracking their symptoms and being able to tell if their symptoms are getting in the way of them benefiting from therapy. For example, if I have a depressed or anxious client, I often explain the importance of taking medication, engaging in exercise or eating well, and coming to therapy in order for therapy to work. If the client is struggling with insomnia, low motivation, anhedonia, and depressed mood because they aren’t taking medication or doing other things to help themselves, therapy will be a waste of time.


Do you have anything to add to this list?

As always, I look forward to interacting with you. Feel free to post your experiences below. Stay tuned for next week’s article and audio blog on the effects of trauma, grief, and loss on the treatment process at my website


Take care

Photo by Alan Cleaver
Treatment: 15 Reasons Therapy Isn’t Working

Támara Hill, MS, NCC, CCTP, LPC

Támara Hill, MS, NCC, CCTP, LPC, is a licensed therapist and internationally certified trauma professional, in private practice, who specializes in working with children and adolescents who suffer from mood disorders, trauma, and disruptive behavioral disorders. She also provides international consultations and works with some young and older adults struggling with grief & loss or life transitions. Hill strives to help clients to realize and actualize their strengths in their home environments and in their relationships within the community. She credits her career passion to a “divine calling” and is internationally recognized for corresponding literary works as well as appearances on radio and other media platforms. She is an author, family consultant, Keynote speaker, and founder of Anchored Child & Family Counseling. Visit her at Anchored-In-Knowledge or Twitter and Youtube Youtube If you are interested in scheduling a telehealth family consultation, feel free to let me know.

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APA Reference
Hill, T. (2017). Treatment: 15 Reasons Therapy Isn’t Working. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Jun 2017
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