What to Do If Therapy Isn't Working

Angry Young Girl in A Counseling session


Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Many make the decision to go to therapy when they are desperate for relief from deep pain. It isn’t an easy task, so if you have taken the leap to get support, take a moment to honor this accomplishment.

Therapy is a unique treatment. For many forms of clinical support we may seek, like getting medication for mood swings or hormone therapy, there is a clear timeline of when we can expect to see results. However, therapy can be a bit harder to gauge since it is based upon your personal situation, your mind’s response to talking about challenging things, the type of therapy you’re receiving, and the therapist you’re working with.

It isn’t uncommon to notice that therapy isn’t working the way you had expected. This article will cover how to tell if therapy isn’t working and steps you can take to ensure you get the most out of your treatment. 

How Do You Know If Therapy Isn’t Working?

We know when therapy is working well. We will notice ourselves making meaning out of our hardship, having breakthrough insights, and seeing how our life is beginning to shift. However, it can be harder to determine if therapy isn’t working.

A few clear signs of therapy not working are:

  • feeling judged by your therapist
  • omitting information from your provider for fear of their reaction
  • consistently feeling worse in-between sessions and not receiving tools to move through the discomfort
  • a complete lack of progress over the course of months

If You're Feeling Judged

If you’re feeling judged, sometimes that means you aren’t with the right therapist for you. The relationship between the client and therapist, also referred to as the therapeutic alliance, is a pillar of clinical progress. If that relationship isn’t strong, it can be hard to make progress.

It's not uncommon to work with several therapists before finding one who is the best fit for you. If you need to change your therapist, it's not a failure, and it doesn't mean therapy can't work for you. There are many options out there who may better suit your needs.

If You're Struggling Between Sessions

There may be times when you feel unwell in-between sessions. Sometimes therapy can feel worse before it gets better. This is because we are often discussing painful moments in our life that we haven’t shared with anyone before.

However, if you’ve voiced that you’re feeling destabilized between your sessions and your provider isn’t offering coping tools or even a check-in call when you’re in crisis, this is a sign that your current therapist may not be the right fit for you.

If You're Feeling a Lack of Progress

It is important to note that therapy is a long-term process—treatment can last well over six months for some folks. With this in mind, sometimes it can take a while to feel relief, and the timeline of beginning to see results can differ for everyone.

In short, sometimes therapy isn’t working and sometimes we need to adjust our expectations. Regardless of which is true for you, there are options to find the right support you need.

Reevaluating Goals and Expectations

First, when considering if therapy isn’t working for you, take a moment to reflect on your expectations. Sometimes we hope therapy is a quick fix, but it can take time. Other times, we may hope our therapist will “fix” our problems or offer advice.

However, the role of your therapist is to help you understand your mind better, give you tools to help you cope, and guide you towards learning how to solve the issues in your life. It is critical a therapist adheres to this role so that dependency isn’t created in the relationship.

Simply put, if a therapist is doling out advice and solving your problems for you, it hinders your ability to trust your intuition and grow your problem-solving skills. After evaluating your expectations, it is time to turn to your therapist for some answers.

Asking Your Therapist for Insight

Your therapist is a mental health expert who has experience supporting folks in their healing journey. Because of this, they have more insight into what your healing journey could look like. If you’re noticing therapy isn’t working, being honest with them can help you get answers.

Even if you find that perhaps your expectations for therapy aren’t realistic, sharing that with them can lead to fruitful insights. If you’re noticing that you feel judged by them, let them know. It may feel very scary to share that with them, but ultimately this is your treatment, and you always have the power to leave. Be candid about how you’re feeling in-between sessions and what you think may be lacking in your care. This allows your therapist to reevaluate their approach and course-correct as needed.

Assessing the Therapy Modality You’re Receiving

Sometimes talk therapy isn’t for everyone. Particularly for folks who have trauma histories, somatic therapy can be a much more effective modality. If this sounds like you, exploring a modality like somatic experiencing could be helpful . Others may wish for a more flexible and holistic approach to healing. A holistic therapist will support you through eclectic modalities and incorporating other forms of wellness, like acupuncture or yoga. 

If you’re feeling that the therapy modality you’re receiving isn’t the right fit, let your provider know. Again, they are well-versed in the mental health field and can help point you in the right direction.

Considering a New Provider

As mentioned, sometimes we just aren’t with the right therapist for us. If this is the case, it may be time to find a new provider. This can feel like a daunting process, but there are options for making it easier. If you hold a marginalized identity and would prefer a therapist who shares a similar identity, consider searching for a provider on Inclusive Therapists, Therapy for Black Girls, Therapy for Black Men, Latinx Therapy, or the National Queer and Trans Therapist of Color Network. If finances are a concern, Open Path Collective features a diverse collective of providers who offer therapy sessions for $30 to $60. You can also reach out to your health insurance to see what mental health offerings are covered by your plan.

A Word From Verywell

Sometimes it can take a bit of trial and error to find the best provider. However, getting great care can change your life, so don’t be discouraged by the search. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this journey, enlist some support along the way. Maybe you join a support group while you weigh out your therapy options. You can also have a friend or family member help you sort through different providers. If you’re noticing you’re in a crisis, reach out to a mental health hotline for immediate support. You are worthy of feeling good. Healing is possible.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Norcross JC, Lambert MJ. Psychotherapy relationships that work III. Psychotherapy. 20181018;55(4):303. doi: 10.1037/pst0000193

  2. Gabbard GO, Long-Term Psychodynamic Therapy: A Basic Text. 3rd Ed. Arlington, VA. American Psychological Association Publishing; 2017

By Julia Childs Heyl
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.