Do I need a new therapist?
February 10, 2015 2:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm only 3 sessions in, but I'm not feeling my therapist and think I should quit and find someone else.

The issue is a little pressing because at my therapist's suggestion I'm supposed to start group therapy and they want a 3 month commitment. Even though I was hesitant, I felt like I needed to be open to the experience and to some extent defer to my therapist if I really wanted this to work. However, 2 weeks later I've really lost confidence in my therapist and his ability to really "get" me and what my be a good fit for me. I realize I've already committed myself, but I think it wouldn't be fair to the group for me to leave once it has started and I doubt they could't replace me.

While the first session, which was two hours, I thought went fairly well since then I feel like there has been zero progress. The first session I sort of gave my life story, which includes some traumas that obviously have shaped a lot of who I am and some of that felt good to talk about because I hadn't in years and I realized it still affects me more than I realized.

I'm a pretty analytical "in my own head" kind of person. While I certainly can have very strong feelings, I'm not the kind of person that is just having a lot of emotional reactions all the time. I really wanted therapy to address longstanding low level depression and anxiety, as well as ongoing relationship (or lack thereof) issues.

The therapist keeps asking me what I'm feeling right now and I don't know what to tell him. He does this numerous times during the sessions. I generally don't really feel anything at that moment. Once he asked me enough times or doesn't seem satisfied with my answer, I do get kind of annoyed and frustrated and I've told him that. He seems very caught up on this idea that I push away my emotions and don't allow myself to feel them. To some extent this probably true and I've certainly compartmentalized emotions a lot in my life, but I don't think I'm doing that when I'm sitting there. He seems to think I didn't let myself feel my emotions during these traumatic times in my life and that's the source of my depression and anxiety, but I'm not really sure this is true. There have been times when I just cried over the same thing on a regular basis for months or even years at a time. Sure I sucked it up and went to school and work or whatever, but then I'd come home and cry for hours over what was going on. Not being able to let go of anger has been a huge issue for me and I have been extremely angry for way longer than seems normal or healthy.

I get that I have a tendency to bottle things up and then explode, but there really isn't any thing in my life that really fits into that category right now. Sure there are still things that if I think about they will bring tears to my eyes, but I feel like that's not abnormal. Maybe it is?

My therapist keeps seeming to imply I need to break through some sort of emotional barrier if I want to make progress, but honestly I feel like when I've had the most personal breakthroughs was when I was able to emotionally separate myself from a situation and think about it very objectively.

For instance, I once casually dated a friend and he ended up being super dishonest and doing some really fucked up things. I wasn't even that into him and it had really just been a rebound that I had gotten into because I thought it would be a fun light distraction from a recent breakup. I was extremely angry with him to the point it was affecting my life and I couldn't let go of my anger. I knew it was irrational and that I was only hurting myself by staying so angry, but I couldn't let it go. I finally realized though that the reason I couldn't let go was that I had never been successfully deceived by someone in this manner before. I have pretty good instincts and I was blindsided by his betrayal and dishonestly. In addition to the pain and anger, I was terrified that someone had the ability to blindside me in this manner. I finally realized that I was holding onto the anger because it felt that if I let go of the anger I would be dropping my guard and someone else would be able to deceive me in this way again. Coming to this realization really helped me moved on and even though I know he's still not a good person and I don't want him in my life, I'm not actively angry with him anymore.

I didn't come to this realizing by really "feeling" my anger and hurt and pain. If anything that made it worse. So I'm just not convinced that breaking through my emotional barriers is really what I need, but maybe I'm wrong. I am fairly flat emotionally. Part of that is just being an introvert and I certainly can be very emotional and engaged in the right situation. But maybe part of it has prevented me from meeting the right person and having a lasting relationships. However, I have lots of friends and some of those friendships are very close and I do date and I have been in relationships. Although I feel like fewer than most of my friends and that I have more difficulty than other people.

Which is all a very long and convoluted way of getting to my question of should I keep going? Should I give group therapy a shot? I'm pretty introverted and don't feel like it's going to be a good fit, but I'm trying to stay open to the idea that for this to work I may need to do things that are outside of my comfort zone. Is 3 sessions/4 hours too soon to really know? I'm grappling with whether my expectations are too high and whether the effects are likely to be far more gradual and unpronounced. Right now I feel like we are going around in circles and that this week was just a repeat of last week where he asked me a lot how I was feeling and I didn't have much of an answer for him.

I'm paying for this out of pocket, so 3 months is a lot of time and money to throw at a process I already feel like isn't a good fit. There is another therapist that I would likely go to, so I wouldn't be abandoning therapy entirely.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're out of pocket? Book an appointment with the other therapist and see how it goes already. Don't spent a couple thousand dollars on a bad fit.

It's certainly possible to go back to your therapist and request they revise their approach, or tell them that a specific thing they're doing at isn't working for you, but if you think the match is just not there, don't throw good money after bad.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:58 PM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you don't feel it, just tell him, "I'm going to be pursuing therapy with another practitioner."

Or just don't make any further appointments.

Life is too short.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:58 PM on February 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

I am fairly flat emotionally.

The therapist keeps asking me what I'm feeling right now and I don't know what to tell him. He does this numerous times during the sessions. I generally don't really feel anything at that moment.

My guess is at those times he's seeing your feeling/mind disconnect and trying to draw your conscious awareness to your emotional experience. But you're not ready to go there, so you don't know what he's talking about, and then you get frustrated. It seems like he's telling you something that isn't there. But maybe it is.

Are there other ways you feel like he doesn't get you? He sounds pretty observant, but it still might not be a good fit. Can you stick to 1:1 therapy for a few more sessions and join a group therapy later on at a time when you don't feel pressured? I am worried that the group setting will make you shut down even more.

He seems to think I didn't let myself feel my emotions during these traumatic times in my life and that's the source of my depression and anxiety,

this is generally true actually

There have been times when I just cried over the same thing on a regular basis for months or even years at a time.

Sometimes crying about something can still be "in your head" and not actually releasing the trauma itself. A good cry gets it out and you feel like you got over it. Crying over and over can be a sign of still being stuck.

So I would say: yes absolutely stick with therapy

I would tentatively say: yes stick with this guy*

I would say: try group therapy later when you feel more connected

*How does he respond when you say "I'm not feeling anything right now!" Does he understand that? If there are other reasons why you don't feel understood by this guy, or you continue to feel misunderstood then leave. But spend some time really asking yourself if he's on to something here. When he asks you how you're feeling *right now* pause and do a body scan of your physical sensations and report on that. I feel tightness in my chest. I feel numb. I feel burning in my chest. I feel queasy. Whatever.

Progress won't be linear, fwiw.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:04 PM on February 10, 2015 [8 favorites]

I kind of feel like, if you think you already know the best strategy for approaching your emotional issues (by distancing and analyzing), then why are you in therapy?

If you don't like your therapist, that's totally valid as a reason to find someone else. However, what I'm hearing is someone who is resisting the process because they know better, and I think that can derail therapy more than anything.

I thought my current therapist was just a Pollyanna who wanted me to congratulate myself for every little thing, until I started actually doing what he was asking me to do in therapy, which is recognize the accomplishments I'd made in a number of areas, so I could get myself "unstuck" from some really debilitating self-sabotaging actions. I thought I was smarter than him and knew myself better, but he's been at this for awhile, and after awhile, I got where he was going.

That's not to say it's your experience, for sure, but your post reads like something I would have written at session #3, is all.
posted by xingcat at 3:10 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know therapists that you can meet for a free session to check them out to see if a good fit. Don't waste time or $ if it doesn't feel right. as soon one who has been there it often does not get better. decide what you what like CBT or another style and find a therapists that fits that. if paying out of pocket they should give you a sliding fee, or a discount.
posted by momtips at 3:15 PM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

You're not required to keep going to this therapist or commit to the group therapy for any reason.

Not every therapist will be a good fit, and this seems to be the case for you now. This therapist may not be a terrible therapist and he might actually be right about your issues, but he doesn't seem to be listening to you or communicating in a way that makes sense to you. His style of therapy (seems to be talk therapy?) just may not be what you need at the moment.

Also, I find the pressure to make a three month commitment to group therapy after only three sessions a little over the top and I seriously question the need for group therapy on top of regular therapy when you've only just started seeing this particular therapist. If he's leading the group and he's the one pressuring you, it might be financially motivated and therefore extremely inappropriate.

Don't waste any more time or money on either this individual therapist or the group sessions. There is a therapist out there who will be a good fit and you should be looking for them instead.
posted by i feel possessed at 3:18 PM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I recently spoke to someone who has been in a lot of therapy over the years, and he summed up his experience with issues like this as: "I've never once regretted switching therapists when I didn't feel like it was working out. I have deeply regretted staying with a therapist when I didn't feel like it was working out."
posted by banal retentive at 3:25 PM on February 10, 2015 [11 favorites]

The therapist keeps asking me what I'm feeling right now and I don't know what to tell him.

This question is extremely common, especially in group therapy. Learning how to identify your emotions in the moment is incredibly important. It can be uncomfortable at first, especially for someone who is not used to assessing his/her feelings.

My therapist keeps seeming to imply I need to break through some sort of emotional barrier if I want to make progress

He's right. Before you learn how to resolve emotional problems or trauma, you first need to be able to identify the issue.

This therapist may not be right for you. You should trust your instincts. But remember that therapy will sometimes make you feel frustrated or uncomfortable, and that is a good thing. You are bringing up unresolved issues, and that can be incredibly painful.
posted by fireandthud at 3:29 PM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

You are feeling things, he's just not giving you the tools to identify them. You're right, this is not working for you.

If you close your eyes, you might find that talking about trauma X makes you feel a tightness in your chest, or your right knee ache, or your eyes twitch, or whatever. I mean that energy is there in you, so it will manifest somewhere.

Anyway, if you can learn to connect with these physical feelings, that might help you release the emotions and then maybe you won't "bottle up" and explode from time to time. FWIW.

But no. This therapist is a bad fit and you should not continue with him.
posted by jbenben at 3:39 PM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I'm in my late 40s now and I've been in a tremendous amount of therapy since I was a teenager, and it's only in the last ten years I managed to find a therapist who I could really make any progress with. It's really important to get with the right person, but unfortunately, it's also not easy.

I think what others have noted is correct, and you have to be willing to engage with uncomfortable feelings when you're in therapy. But the fact that you don't trust this therapist anymore, or that you believe the therapy isn't going well, doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. It's more a matter of balance; make sure you're doing what you need to do to make the therapy effective, but also make sure you're in treatment with the right person, not just the one who lives on the path of least resistance for you.
posted by holborne at 3:40 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

"I've never once regretted switching therapists when I didn't feel like it was working out. I have deeply regretted staying with a therapist when I didn't feel like it was working out." - banal retentive wins this thread.

I've been in your situation, anonymous. If it's not working for you, either discuss with the therapist and see they'll modify their approach, or walk and find a new therapist. There's not exactly a shortage of them out there.

Oh - it is nice of you to consider the impact on the group if you were to leave, but I had a really rotten experience with "group" and would never do it again. The entire "commitment to the group" thing was like a weapon that was used on me anytime I started to think about leaving. Don't be conned.
posted by doctor tough love at 5:32 PM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Therapy will sometimes make you uncomfortable; your therapist should never make you uncomfortable.

It doesn't sound like he's doing anything objectively wrong, but if you aren't feeling allied with him, you should move on. People sometimes just aren't a good fit for each other.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 6:30 PM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

I switched from a very young and inexperienced therapist to one in her 60s, because I did not feel that I was going to get the help I needed from the first one. I was not paying out of pocket either, this was a government funded program and I had to personally tell therapist #1 that it wasn't working out. It was extremely awkward, and felt a bit like an amicable breakup, but it was absolutely the best choice for me.

That said, my current (and excellent) therapist does often make me uncomfortable. At one point I actually told her that I felt she was being condescending, and that I was frustrated with her, and we had a conversation about that and it actually turned out really well. So if you think that this therapist actually does have the experience/knows what he's doing, I would start by being very straightforward about how you're feeling ABOUT HIM and about these sessions and see where that goes. Good luck.
posted by celtalitha at 6:54 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I do think that not feeling emotions authentically keeps people stuck in depression, anxiety, and trauma, and that developing that type of authenticity and vulnerability is the way that most people make lasting changes allowing them to recover from depression, anxiety, and trauma.

It sounds like your therapist's current technique has not yet been working to help you connect with your emotions. A great step in that direction would be letting him know that you're so annoyed at his asking you about your emotions that you're ready to terminate therapy with him, and see where that goes.

Is he the therapist leading the group therapy? Can you do the group but find a different individual therapist? Or stay with him individually but not do the group? You've presented only all-or-nothing options but it's not clear if those are your actual only options.
posted by jaguar at 6:55 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you have no rapport with your therapist, find another one. You will get nowhere with someone you fall flat with and who doesn't get you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:37 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

It can definitely take a few tries to find the right therapist. Three sessions is definitely enough to decide how you feel about yours.

If you have your therapist's email address, just email them and say you don't think this is a good fit and you won't be needing any more sessions. If you have to call (which I know can be nerve-wracking), write out a script before. If you call during the day when you know the therapist has appointments you may even get voicemail.
posted by radioamy at 8:31 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you considered telling your therapist all of this? It might be interesting for both of you to discuss it, and you might find that their approach makes a lot more sense to you. Or you might find that you are indeed a very bad fit and then you can find a new therapist guilt-free!
posted by snoogles at 12:49 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

You sound like a very mature person who already has a way to deal with things, but would like external support in the same direction to become more efficient. Your current therapist seems to be going in a different direction, and from what you've told us, frankly I wouldn't trust him either. He seems trapped in the preconceived notion of trauma and depression and isn't really looking at how it is in your case. Group therapy can wait. You will know when you really feel like you'd like to try, and there is no need to push yourself to do this at the moment. Look for a therapist who respects your needs and style.
posted by snufkin5 at 5:08 AM on February 11, 2015

There is often a belief, especially among fairly intellectual and/or intelligent people, that thinking is better than feeling. It's not; emotions provide us with information we need to incorporate into our decision-making process, and thoughts can be just as irrational and "hysterical" as the way our culture stereotypes emotions. People who try to logic their way out of emotions often end up depressed and anxious as a result, because ignoring information about how one feels often leads one to refuse to take appropriate action to change a situation that's causing distress, and that inability to take appropriate action leads one to feel stuck and hopeless (which exacerbates depression) and scared of how the stuck-ness is making them feel (which exacerbates anxiety).

Again, this particular therapist may not be a great fit, or even a good therapist, but I would urge you not to dismiss any therapist who works to help you with those emotional blocks. It's a vital part of good therapy. Even Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, which focuses on cognition and behavior, does so in the belief that focusing on thoughts and behaviors is a way of allowing more authentic emotion, not a way of shutting down emotion.
posted by jaguar at 6:52 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Like you, I tend to have a flat affect. I analyze situations a lot, and it's a strategy that often works brilliantly for me. When I went to therapy, it was easy to talk about my emotions if I was actually in distress, but if I wasn't distressed at the moment, I would say I wasn't feeling anything in particular. I would want to move on to analyzing stuff, and I'd get frustrated that the therapist wanted me to talk more about my feelings when there wasn't anything really going on, on the feelings front.

When my therapist was saying "really feel your feelings," it came across like telling me I need to be more dramatic emotionally, to feel as much extreme emotion as possible. And obviously that would not be helpful. But I came to realize I was only being asked to be a better communicator of what I actually was feeling.

An analogy that helped me was thinking of feelings like weather. It wouldn't ever be accurate for a weather report to say that there's "no weather." In fact, that would be kind of dystopian weird, and you'd start imagining the meteorologist had been taken hostage or something. Maybe there's no hurricane, no thunderstorm, not even rain. But there's always something. Maybe it's partly cloudy and 60 degrees. Maybe it's sunny and 72. Is there a light breeze? How much humidity? Just describe what is actually happening in as much detail as possible.

I think maybe you're minimizing the emotional component in your anecdote about analyzing the situation with your friend who deceived you. Another way of reading what you wrote is that you felt angry, really angry, and after dwelling on that anger for a while, you realized there was fear underlying the anger. It was only digging beneath the anger to recognize the fear that resolved the distress.

That is exactly the sort of thing therapy can help with, digging below one emotion to find another and unlock the situation. But when you're talking about low-level depression and anxiety, you're talking about feelings that aren't as distressing as how angry you were that one time. You're talking about more subtle stuff that is often easy to ignore if you choose to. You seem frustrated that you're being asked to look closely at feelings so small they don't really count as anything for you, but it might be exactly what's needed. Maybe another therapist will be a better fit, and maybe this frustration is part and parcel of the work you want to do. It's hard to say.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 7:32 AM on February 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Way late to the party, but I have some thoughts on this. I have historically had bad luck with therapy, to the point where I just gave up. One suicide attempt later, I ended up with someone in a local hospital's resident program. And she is great.

For me, it's absolutely necessary to have a genuine rapport with a therapist. I think that probably involves them being willing to adapt to your communication style as well as the opposite. My therapist and I have a very jokey relationship, and that is probably in part because she knows it makes me comfortable. (Not entirely-- she's also just really cool, and I would totally have a beer with her if not for the professional relationship.) But we've definitely negotiated in our interactions.

I started seeing her following a suicide attempt, and I was in no mood to deal with the waste of time therapy had been in the past. So I was perhaps a little brusque during our first session. I believe I asked her, "are you just going to do that thing where you repeat back everything I say? Because that's not going to be very useful to me." So we worked out a slightly more proactive style of interaction.

She told me at one point that my habit of covering things with black humor, while an essential coping mechanism, was getting in the way of therapy, so I agreed to try to drop it even if I felt like the black hole would swallow me if I did. But I was always allowed to come back with some ridiculousness when I really needed to, and as warmup and cooldown, and she has always played back.

Hell, today I critiqued her for doing the "so you're saying that..." thing when I was in the middle of a particularly emotional thing. I explained why it had been a problem, she explained why she did it, we both learned.

So going to miss her when she switches programs in a few months.

Anyway, the right combination of personalities is absolutely essential. But it is a relationship-- you have to be willing to mention where the other party is going wrong, and the other party has to be willing to consider your comments and discuss. It doesn't sound to me like this guy is likely to work for you. But have you told him why he isn't, and what might be better? Either way, you should be prepared to do this with any future therapists you try. I am certainly going to.
posted by Because at 4:44 AM on February 13, 2015

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