Why It Doesn’t Always Feel Like You’re Making Progress in Therapy

kids climbing up rock wall making progress

Therapy is a long and winding road. There are peaks, feeling mentally strong and achieving your goals, and valleys where you don’t feel like you’re making as much progress as you’d like. Sometimes, as clients progress along this road, they take two steps forward and one step back, and at other times they may even feel like they are taking two steps forward and three steps back.

Don’t get discouraged, it’s likely that you’re making more progress than you think. Here are 5 reasons why you may feel like you’re not achieving much in therapy even though you actually are.

1. You’re a Perfectionist

Many people who struggle with anxiety are also perfectionists, workaholics, and are considered by loved ones and coworkers alike to be difficult if not impossible to please. This is an issue that you can explore in therapy, and working with a therapist can help you see the big picture, as well help you understand the origins of your perfectionism.

However, early in the therapeutic process, you may feel that you are stagnating, because you aren’t able to see clear indicators of quick progress the way you do in other areas of your life. Ironically, progress may be made only if you let go of the idea that there needs to be a constant trajectory of linear achievement in every aspect of your life.

2. You’re Not Ready to Engage on Key Issues

Sometimes people come into therapy consciously wanting to work on, say, depression, although they know there are other important issues at play, alcoholism for instance. If you are not yet ready to openly discuss the full gamut of reasons that you are struggling in your life, then therapy will not be as effective as it could be.

However, every session makes you feel more bonded to your therapist (referred to as the “therapeutic alliance”) and may be bringing you ever-closer to being fully vulnerable and open, which will then allow you to finally tackle these “secret” issues.

3. You’re Depressed and it’s Coloring Your Worldview

Depression can be debilitating, but depressive symptoms wax and wane over time. Still, on days that depression rears its ugly head, you will likely see the glass as half empty no matter what the true state of affairs may be. This is when you start thinking that your therapist is unhelpful and therapy is a cruel joke, even though just last week you felt you were making real progress, gaining new insights and understanding, and finally seeing things in a healthier way. The best course of action here might be to hang in there and re-evaluate; sometimes your depressive symptoms may become less severe even by the time of your following session.

4. A Loved One is Ruining the Idea of Therapy for You

You may have thought you were doing great, making real progress until you shared these facts with someone who tends to be a chronic underminer. This person may have told you that therapy isn’t useful, or that you actually don’t seem much better or different. This negative view may have seeped into your consciousness and is now making you feel bad about yourself and your decision to seek treatment. If you know someone who seems to consistently undermine others’ happiness or self-esteem, it may be a wise choice not to share with them much about therapy, or even that you’re in therapy at all.

5. You Aren’t Clicking With Your Therapist

In this case, you may be making progress but you are unable to make as much as you otherwise could, so you need to think about trying a new therapist. The most progress can be made within a healthy and positive therapeutic relationship, and you deserve to make the most progress possible with someone who you genuinely connect with.

Think over this list and see which of these apply to you. Bring these points up with your therapist as well; they will be interested to hear your thoughts. Remember, therapeutic progress may have twists and turns, peaks and valleys, but will overall be significant for many people.

Published by

Dr. Samantha Rodman

Clinical Psychologist