Why Therapy Doesn’t Work

I don’t know about you, but the thought of seeing a therapist is something that doesn’t bring with it the excitement of a two-week vacation to Maui. In fact, despite how much people hate the dentist, most people are even more reluctant to see a counselor or mental health therapist. In my years of practice, I’ve never had someone call me and say, “Hi Jeremy. I called you because I’m looking for a Licensed Professional Counselor to help me deal with this sense of unspeakable joy and happiness I’ve been having!” Usually, people call me because they are pretty clear that life is not working for them. Most of them want me to fix something or make a problem disappear. And I can’t do that.That’s one of the reasons therapy doesn’t work.

The truth is, I don’t have the ability to fix anybody, and I can’t make things better. Strange words to come from someone like me who purports to be a counselor, therapist and life coach, aren’t they? And yet, you’d never ask a personal trainer at the gym to make you lose weight or be muscular and fit. No matter how many burpees, squats, or push-ups your trainer does, you’ll never get skinny because of her work. Get it? I can give you lots of tools and suggestions, and still, you’ve got to do the work to see results.

A lot of therapists won’t like what I’m about to say, and I’ll say it anyway: Therapy doesn’t work when you select your therapist based on the number of letters after his or her name. Those letters are almost completely irrelevant (except perhaps to the therapist’s ego.) Therapists spend years in school studying psychological theories and learning about different tools and strategies for helping people overcome emotional pain. Some of them were really complex and others were really simple. You might think the most important thing in choosing a therapist or life coach is expertise and training. And, you’d be wrong. Study after study proves that the most influential factor in successful therapy is your relationship with the therapist. That’s not to say you should see some quack with no license or education. A therapist should absolutely be complying with state law and ethics about psychotherapy and counseling; however, the therapist’s credentials don’t guarantee successful therapy: the relationship is most important.

To further use the metaphor of physical fitness, have you ever met someone who got discouraged because they went to the gym for 10 days straight and didn’t see a result? The scale wouldn’t budge, and the pecs didn’t get any bigger. What’s up with that? Although many people do experience a pretty big shift after even one counseling session, most people don’t. To see results, you’ve got to stick with the program until you do. Along the way, keep giving your therapist feedback about things he did that you liked, or things that you didn’t like. This feedback is therapeutic gold! By staying in communication and sticking with it, you’re much more likely to see results in the shortest amount of time.

Seeing a therapist isn’t always easy, though it doesn’t have to be scary. Most counselors will provide a free consultation so that you can get a sense of whether it’s a good fit. If you sense your therapist will listen to you, has an interest in you personally, and most of all – that he or she cares, trust your gut and go with it. For successful therapy, trust your gut first and the resume second. What if you’re far more aware than you ever gave yourself credit?

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Jeremy Savage, MA, LPC

2727 Bryant St. #104
Denver, CO 80211


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