Whether you’ve been seeing your therapist for a few months or a few years, it’s very likely that at some point during the treatment you will feel like nothing is happening. “What am I really getting out of this?” you’ll wonder. “Is this still working for me?” This feeling of stuck-ness is common and it doesn’t mean you’re “failing” at therapy.
Plateaus happen in almost every therapeutic relationship eventually, and they can look different depending on why you’re in therapy. For some, it may look like obsessing about the same problem week after week without moving toward any kind of solution or resolution. For others, it may look like struggling to find something to talk about with the therapist. In either situation, the question becomes, at this point, what to do when it happens?
Not Every Week is a Breakthrough
In the movies, every therapy session seems to be a roller coaster of emotions. It’s often portrayed with the patient remembering a repressed traumatic event from their childhood or breaking down over some great epiphany their therapist led them to. Rarely is therapy ever like this in real life. “Therapy is more like a series of small breakthroughs,” writes Joseph Rauch for Talkspace. But even these won’t be a weekly occurrence — your therapist may help guide you, week by week, toward an insight they think you will benefit from, but these insights are most effective when you arrive at them at your own pace.
The bottom line is, you’re not going to have a momentous, emotional realization at the end of every session. Have conversations with your therapist early and often about your expectations for your work together. Sometimes expectations need to be examined and adjusted.
Don’t Give Up
The worst thing you can do when you feel like you’ve hit a plateau is to quit therapy without talking about it with your therapist. Your therapist will help you evaluate your progress so far, where you want to go, and what you (and they) think might be holding you back. Are there any issues or subjects you brought up before and tabled for another time? Maybe that time has come. Has your therapist said or done anything that may have upset or angered you? This could’ve caused a rupture in your relationship, and it might be a good time to address it. There could be multiple reasons you might be at a standstill, but it’s important to get to the root of the issue before giving up.
Of course, therapy isn’t meant to continue in perpetuity; therapists begin every new relationship with their clients with termination in mind, and maybe it really is time to “graduate” from therapy. Your therapist will let you know if they think that’s the case, too, and together you can make plans to review how far you’ve come so that you can reemerge in the world with the skills and self-awareness you gained from your weekly therapy hour.
It Might Be Time for a Change
A plateau can also be a sign that you need to move on, but just because you’ve outgrown your current therapist doesn’t mean you’ve outgrown therapy altogether. Different therapists specialize in different issues, and maybe you’ve moved beyond one problem and are ready to tackle something else. For this, you might need a new specialist a new therapeutic approach. Talk with your current therapist and see if they have a colleague who they can refer you to who can help you tackle the next step.
Additionally, “goodbye” doesn’t have to mean forever. Therapists and patients pause their work together all the time. Sometimes learning and growing emotionally can be really taxing, and taking a break from therapy to absorb the information and process it solo can be another kind of growth moment. It’s okay to take a few weeks or months off to venture out on your own with the goal of returning at a later date.
The key thing to remember in all of this is to talk to your therapist about how you’re feeling. There is always a reason why you and your therapist have hit a plateau, and together you can figure out what the best course of action is.