5 Reasons Why Therapy Does NOT Work

July 22, 2019

I used to have a very shady opinion of therapists. I believed it was for rich, lonely or dangerously-crazy people with zero confidants. I now have a more informed, sophisticated understanding thanks to personal experience and decent insurance.  

A book by Psychologist Louis Cozolino called Why Therapy Works makes a powerful case for talking out your issues with a professional. He writes that it opens the door for healing because it meets a basic human need to have a caring relationship with another human. I second that, but I don't believe it works all the time.

There are simply some problems you might not want to share with a friend or relative because you fear judgement; they might be part of the problem and/or they're tired of hearing about your problems. However, therapists aren't brain magicians...they can't erase your triggers, or undo a lifetime of negative thinking in a day. Therapists can't help when:

1. You don't believe it will work. Maybe you've thought about it, but you just aren't comfortable with the thought of discussing your feelings with a stranger. Maybe you come from a culture that frowns on it, or your confused brain has convinced itself that it can fix itself. Instead, you buy another self-help book, listen to another podcast and call your BFF...again. Many of us need another human to give us an objective view of ourselves and to recognize unhealthy patterns. Without it, nothing changes.

2. You don't stick with it. You cry or fidget though an appointment or two and feel drained afterward. The initial emotional hangover is too yucky, and your brain convinces itself that you're better off not getting to the heart of the problem.

3. You fail to take the therapist's advice. Many therapists are like personal trainers for your brain. They give you tools to help you cope with stress, anxiety and unhealthy behaviors. Some suggest setting new boundaries with children, parents, partners and friends. Your homework might involve writing in a journal, meditation, exercise or *gasp* cutting back on coffee or alcohol. The tools your therapist gives you are no good if you're not willing to put in the effort.

4. You aren't completely honest with the therapist. Omitting important details about your lifestyle and personal history doesn't give your counselor the information they need to recognize patterns and triggers. That info helps them come up with a plan to help you make positive changes. 

5. You need more help than that particular therapist can offer. Perhaps you need medication that the therapist isn't legally allowed to prescribe. It's also important to have a therapist that you feel compatible and comfortable with. 

You don't have to be completely broken to see a therapist. Therapy can help you to be a better parent, employee or partner. You don't have to keep wrestling with the same old mental health problems. Some of us have found that therapy is a valuable tool that helps us live more joyfully with our with the same old parents, employers and partners. Sometimes, the problem isn't them.