As a therapist, when we tell people what we do as a career, we often get told, “I went to therapy before. I think it can work great for some people it just wasn’t for me.” In fact, people can usually think of several friends/family in their lives who could benefit from therapy before thinking about it for themselves. When I ask the follow up question (as therapists are trained to do) about why it “wasn’t for them,” I tend to get the same responses every time. See if you’ve ever thought, felt, or said any of this about your prior experience with therapy:
1. I didn’t like the therapist.
I totally get this. You’re not going to jive with everyone. Whether the therapist just didn’t get you, you’re fundamentally polar opposites as people, or the therapist was seemingly preoccupied with something else and didn’t give you the attentiveness you deserve, you don’t want to waste time or money seeing a therapist you don't like.
*Jamie, An anonymous contributor said this: “I can think of about six therapists I’ve been to in my life. A few of them I saw only once or twice, tops. I just didn’t connect with them for various reasons. If I didn’t connect with them after a session or two, I’d just quit scheduling with them. Then I’d kind of just think the problem wasn’t going to be helped by therapy anyway. When things got worse instead of better [after quitting therapy] I’d eventually try therapy again. By eventually, I mean a couple of years would go by. I probably shouldn’t have struggled for that long but I was convinced no one could help me. That’s not true though because the other three [therapists] I probably saw for several months to a year each. So this was like, once was when I as a teen, then again in my early 20s and the shortest time in my 30s. Each one of those therapists couldn’t have been more different than the other in personality and therapy style. I don’t know, it was like I just liked spending time with them and felt lighter after sessions. I think what made the difference was they genuinely seemed to like me and believed in me. I always remember one therapist who said, 'I like meeting with you because you know deep down what the answer is, you just need someone to listen while you process it out loud.' That meant a lot because I felt the therapist really did believe in me. So if they challenged me at times, I knew it was coming from a caring place and I listened to their feedback. Mostly, I think each one [of the therapists] taught me to trust myself and be okay with who I am. I don’t know that I’ll need to go to therapy again in the future but if I do, I know I may have to try a couple of people before I find the right match. I know that can be frustrating but I feel like it’s just part of the process.”
2) It just felt weird to complain about my problems to a stranger.
Fair enough. Some people just don’t like to talk about their feelings. Some cultures (whether a family culture or a societal culture) believe feelings=weakness or talking about feelings makes you weak. Plus, if you have a good friends or family who listen and are there for you when your struggling, you might think that’s good enough.
Those social connections can be powerfully healing, but they also require mutual support. You may be unable to talk to a friend or loved one about your stress who is going through a lot themselves. Your therapist isn’t going to make the session about themselves or have you stop to comfort them. Or at least, they shouldn't! You get to be totally selfish in monopolizing the time and conversation while in therapy. That’s expected because it is your time and money.
Besides, sometimes family and friends, as well-meaning as they may be, are actually too close to a situation themselves to be able to give sound advice. I mean, you can only complain about your boyfriend so much before they give Tom the stink-eye every time at the next family BBQ. That may not be helpful when you’re trying to make it work and realize deep down, both you and Tom are contributing to the relationship problems!
Therapists do far more than just listen and tell you Tom is a loser and you deserve better. They are trained to know how to help you figure out why you chose to be in a relationship with Tom in the first place, and what part you can play in improving your relationship with Tom. They can stay much more neutral while allowing you to figure out if Tom is the guy for you. They can even help you learn the skills to move forward in that relationship or find better Toms in the future. They can do all this for you while not being part of the family group [gossiping] text messages you just know are happening behind your back!
3) Things got better on their own.
Again, this makes sense! Sometimes situations do spontaneously improve! That difficult boss you have might get transferred. The marital stress may turn a corner and improve. You might get on an antidepressant and feel a lot better!
Another thing to consider, however, is that you may have been unconsciously putting things out there (such as a lack of assertiveness) that was subtly attracting difficult relationships. These subconscious driving forces may be things that when addressed in therapy, started leading to the "spontaneous" life changes you were seeing! But therapy is not just about improving life problems in the short term, but also preventing them from becoming recurring life problems and decrease your susceptibility to stress and struggles over time. The therapy work you were doing could have been the catalyst for your new, improved life!
I would encourage you that if you’ve given therapy a chance before, but didn’t like the therapist, felt weird about talking about your problems, or life just suddenly improved, consider going back if you even THINK you might need it. If you want to be happier, feel more confident, think about the past less or worry less about the future, call us. Family Solutions Counseling has several therapists you are welcome to “try us out” before finding the one you connect with and make the lasting changes you deserve.
*Name was changed to protect confidentiality