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How Therapy Failed Me and How I Failed Therapy

The excuses I gave and the real reasons behind why I hate therapy.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Talk Therapy

Ah, the catch all solution for everyone’s life problems. An emotional dumping ground for some. A path to self-actualization for others.

The magical portal that must live up to the expectations of delivering you from your chaotic mess of a life into a peaceful Zen space in 60 minutes or less.

Obviously, it can’t do all of that. But with the frequency it is given as a recommended solution — it certainly feels like it could, or at least should.

Sure, I guess I’ll try anything once. Naively, I assumed it would work. It worked on everyone else after all. But it didn’t work for me.

But then I tried it again…and again…and again. And it still didn’t work. I tried so many times in fact that I’m too embarrassed to even count.

Different therapists. Different styles. Different lengths of time. All for different issues. What did I end up with?

A string of failures and wasted time.

Each time I tried again, I became angrier and became more guarded. My skepticism grew and I lost faith in finding a path to improve myself.

And well, after all of that, I have concluded that talk therapy doesn’t work — at least not for me.

I should have learned my lesson the first time I quit. I rejected therapy like any other out of the box solution. How could one tool be a match for the complexity and depth of not only my issues, but everyone’s life issues? Why should I approach my mental health with the same methodology as a physician who reviews my physical health? I can’t just provide a description of my symptoms and walk out the door with their cookie-cutter solution. It’s not that easy.

So I Quit

Or at least I’d take a sabbatical claiming that I had quit. Only to later hype me back up again to join the masses in their therapy journey. Hoping and praying that this time my return to therapy would reflect the success stories of others.

That never happened. My therapy always failed.

So many people preached therapy’s benefits that I convinced myself that it’s got to just be me. That I am the reason my therapy failed. I am too broken to be fixed.

But, wait. Step back — That’s a whole lotta self-blame. That’s just not fair to myself. I can’t put all of this failure on my shoulders.

So in a world of therapy lovers, let me make my case for why talk therapy really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

10 Reasons I Hate Therapy

1. Fixed Schedule

Thoughts and emotions don’t happen on a schedule. I can’t show up at 7 pm every Tuesday and expect to be in the headspace to be energized enough to summarize and explain in detail what’s happening. To be emotionally vulnerable, yet have the clarity and sense of logic to have a mental breakthrough. That’s ridiculous. I needed something that’s available on-demand that could bend to the whims of my emotions.

I also get it though. Routine can be comforting. Adhering to a schedule forces you to partake in an activity that you might not have otherwise made time for.

Perhaps this may be why so many people enjoy their daily run, the trip to the gym, or weekly church. It’s time specifically set aside for you to be alone with your thoughts.

So which is it? Do I need routine or flexibility? Can’t I have both?

2. Disorganized Thoughts

I couldn’t organize my thoughts from earlier sessions to connect them to today’s session. This is a combination of terrible memory and new issues arose every week.

I never knew where one story would end and the other one would begin. Or why I’d even choose to tell any specific story at all.

It was all disjointed tangents that lacked purpose.

Maybe I needed a mission or goal to achieve. But therapy would unearth so many distractions along the way. Was it all relevant? Or was none of it relevant? Using talking as a tool alone was such a disorganized way for me to learn from myself.

This is probably because I’m not an auditory learner. It was about time I explore kinesthetic and visual forms of introspection too.

3. Lost Progress

Ah-ha! moments were often lost to my short-term memory. I could remember the feeling of relief of therapy. The general positive sentiment throughout the week. But the actual mantras and breakthroughs that are supposed to help me for the rest of my life? Those disappear almost instantly. In my heighted emotional state, my memory turns into that of a goldfish. I’m left repeating the past.

4. Talking to the Void

One-sided conversations are hard. I thought with therapy, I’d be signing up for a conversation.

Or even better, I thought therapy would be more like the movies. You could sit there in brooding silence and a therapist could psychoanalyze your actions like a psychic. Most of the revolutionary thoughts would come from them, not from you.

But no… You pay someone to listen. And then they just repackage what you said and bounce it back to you like a mirror so you can come to the conclusions yourself. It’s annoying. It felt like I was wasting time and money just to hear an echo.

5. She’s an Imposter

The one opinion I’ve been craving to hear this whole time, I often discredit the second she opens her mouth. In the blink of an eye, I dismiss her multiple advanced degrees and years of clinical experience.

Emotions are cannot be studied to be fully understood. They must be lived.

And that is why her textbook advice will never carry the same weight as someone who has lived through the pain — the chaos. I do not have time or energy to waste being vulnerable with someone who cannot help me. So, I mentally check out. Self-sabotaging my own therapy.

6. Context Needed

There was so much burden in explaining the context of a new story to a stranger.

Nuance in describing the behavior of the other players. The history. The politics. The already thought-out alternative options and why I have decided they won’t work.

I felt this overwhelming need to justify my emotional reaction to something. So I wouldn’t be judged by the one person that I paid not to judge me. Providing context can reveal overarching themes. But it can also make you dwell on the past and not look to how you can change your future.

All this wasted breath on storytelling just to get someone else up to speed. It’s boring and not always productive.

But I never know what might help, so I tell the story anyways. As if my therapist is a detective reading a mystery novel, finding clues along the way to solve your life puzzle.

News flash: They aren’t sitting around trying to solve your problem. Apparently, I’m supposed to do that all on your own. Self-reflection and all. Ugh… what am I even paying them for.

7. Recycled Advice

I’ve already analytically dissected my own problems a thousand times before speaking to you. I’ve tried everything I could before deciding to finally pursue therapy. You are my last hope.

And you’re going to give me breathing techniques? Are you kidding me?

I am not impressed. I’ve already tried that. You have brought nothing new to the table. You’re treating my session as if I am a generic patient that can mold into your generic solution.

I know that I’m really not all that complicated. And I do not want to act like an entitled unique snowflake., I do apologize in advance for this reaction. But any one-size-fits-all approach to anything in life will always irk me.

You have a hammer and it’s clear that you see everything as a nail.

I do not feel seen. I do not feel heard. I do not feel validated.

8. Pressure to Perform

There’s too much self-imposed pressure for me to perform within the hour. Everything I did felt like I was wasting precious valuable time.

I couldn’t allow myself to cry too long during that hour — even if I needed the emotional release. I couldn’t over-explain — even if I needed to process. I couldn’t tangent into the open-ended abyss of my life — because I came here to fix a specific issue.

All of these stipulations only made me more guarded because I knew my time was limited and I needed to use it wisely. I needed to use to use that expensive hour as efficiently and effectively as I could. Even if therapy was free, my time as a new mother was too precious to waste on sitting around with a stranger just to complain about my life.

I was a demanding patient. Requiring a new takeaway each time in order for me to feel the experience was ‘worth it’. And I rarely was given that satisfaction.

9. No Measures of Progress

The analyst in me needed a KPI to show my ROI. Yep, in such a qualitative field, I needed to prove to myself that this was all ‘worth it’.

Without measures of improvement, I felt like these sessions could prolong indefinitely.

What was their incentive to have me understand I had improved when I could just become their steady paycheck?

10. And Finally…The Bad Fit

Still in love with therapy? Then I know exactly what you’re thinking. It’s the exact same piece of advice everyone says when I proclaim I don’t like therapy.

“You just need to find the right fit.”

Why do people even give this advice? There is no therapy speed dating. You get what you get.

You pick a name basically out of a hat. Maybe just because they came recommended. Maybe just because they take your insurance. Maybe just because of their location or schedule aligns with yours. In the end, its just a stranger that you picked pretty randomly. And you’re just supposed to ‘fit’. Even Tinder prescreening could provide you with a better match.

By the time I’d figure out we were a ‘bad match’ for each other, I had already invested too much into the relationship.

  • Walk away too early: I hadn’t given it a fair chance.
  • Walk away too late: The sunk cost of building up the cadence and all that context would be lost.

The pressure to resolve the actual reason I needed therapy in the first place was too high. There became a sense of urgency to continue with any forward momentum to solve my problem.

So I stayed. And probably due that feeling trapped mentality, I ended up with a string of bad therapists.

Some just lacked actionable guidance. But others were much worse. Some victim blamed. Some fear mongered. Some requested I become their guinea pig in experimenting with highly specialized trauma treatments they were not properly trained in. When incorrectly executed it left me improperly still hypnotized for months.

Talk about trigger warnings — that kind of therapy will pretty much paralyze you.

So there you have it…Talk therapy is the worst.

Screw this magical solution that made me feel like I was too broken to be fixed. Therapy itself is the reason why my therapy failed.

I should feel empowered right now…but I don’t.

Unfortunately, pointing the blame on therapy itself is clearly the ultimate defense mechanism. As frustrated as I am with therapy itself I know deep down those were excuses not reasons.

EXCUSES allow me to justify and blame my decision to not do therapy on the therapy itself. I absolve myself of any accountability to pursue therapy which is something someone who obviously needs therapy would do. No matter how valid my points might be, it was a one-sided argument.

If I had really given REASONS, I’d sincerely recognize and accept that the blame lies within. If I want to heal, its time I am held accountable for the things that are within my control.

But wasn’t I specifically trying to avoid putting the blame only on my shoulders?

Yes — But in the game of self-reflection, that’s really the only option to choose from.

It’s tempting to blame my problems on some external factor. To insist that it was impossible. That it wasn’t my fault. But it’s time to grow up and take some responsibility.

While I could rewrite my reasoning into another internet listicle to keep your attention, the very act of organizing my real reasoning behind hating therapy into discreetly defined bins is feels just so wrong.

It completely misses the ever-changing complexity of the problem. So while I do have a few of the reasons listed below for the sake of explanation, keep in mind that I am aware that all of them often meld together. Depending upon the day, the hour, the moment, one may ring more true than others. But for the most part they’re interchangeable.

What I have noticed is these reasons can be categorized in two buckets.

  1. The act of therapy wasn’t something I was ready for.
  2. The tool of therapy wasn’t something that worked for me.

So here it is, the 6 real reasons I hate therapy.

1. My Fear

The issues I needed to work through were too hot to touch. The very thought of walking straight into the flames to begin to firefight would bring me instantly to tears. A Kamikaze mission.

Each time therapy would be suggested by others, I would immediately shut down. Whether it was to lash out at the notion of the advice to act offended, or to lose control because deep down I knew they were right. I didn’t want to chip away weekly at my problems because I was barely holding things together as it was. I didn’t have the confidence that I’d be able to handle it if I actually fell apart.

If I don’t move — If I don’t uncover what’s beneath the surface — Maybe I won’t fall apart. So I stayed still. Hoping my active decision to stay inactive would grant me control over my constantly changing world.

It didn’t. I kept falling apart anyways.

Once I finally would be signed up to go, I’d then become more anxious about the therapy appointment itself then about the problem that I was going for. Talk therapy itself created yet another source of stress for me — which I felt defeated the purpose.

2. My Shame

It goes against every Midwestern fiber in my being to publicly admit that I’ve been to therapy. Disclosing that information feels like a cardinal sin opening my life up for potential gossip.

Where I grew up, therapy was only discussed with hushed voices. There was an unspoken understanding that those who went were batshit crazy, had some terrible home life, or they were an overly emotional drama queen.

Even now after I accept therapy is not only completely normal, but good for you… I still treat it like a dark secret anytime someone tells me that they are in therapy. I lower my voice and dart my eyes around for listening ears when such things are mentioned. As if now I am the keeper of this taboo secret they have entrusted me with so openly and causally.

Drop the secrecy act. If they don’t care, why should I?

That was just on therapy shame. But mental health? A whole ‘nother layer.

I had so much self-shame about not being able to handle it all, that I had a hard time even calling what I was experiencing: PPD. As if it was a bad word. Postpartum Depression.

Instead I’d dance around the subject hoping others would pick up on the hints of the truth of how bad things really were. Desperately hoping to be seen, even though I put the mask on myself. But also equally terrified someone might see through it all and recognize my failure to become a good mom.

My shame kept me from meeting a network of others who felt the same way. Something that would help me feel less alone.

Now, I openly discuss my PPD, but also only in controlled settings. I wish I could be the same person in all areas of my life, but I’m not there yet.

3. My Pride

I didn’t want to admit to myself that I needed outside help. That the problem had gotten so big that I could no longer handle it by myself.

I am a fairly self-sufficient woman. And back to those Midwestern routes, I was taught that therapy was for those who weren’t tough enough to handle normal life.

I was taught that admitting you go to therapy was such an embarrassment, that it was almost better to never go at all. Suck it up. Just stuff those feelings down.

Inspirational quotes should be enough to get you through the day.

“Life is tough darling, but so are you.”

— Stephanie Bennett-Henry

Unfortunately, no. When my world is on fire, a feel-good quote won’t do me much good. Thanks, but no thanks.

But there I go again, arguing against legitimately good advice rather than just taking it. So often I rationalized my own bullshit excuses to protect my fragile ego that it became hard to recognize it as bullshit. I didn’t figure out this simplistic advice on my own, so I rejected it. How insecure of me.

Mantras, breathing, self-care. Anything in therapy’s simplistic toolbox was dismissed by my ego. As if I knew better.

It’s time to have a little bit of humility. You don’t know. You’re here after all. You’re clearly suffering. Just take the damn advice.

4. My Exhaustion

In any other area of my life I care about deeply, I am extremely diligent. I do my homework and work endlessly to try and find the ‘right fit’ for my needs. Always energized to take things to the next level. I am aware that I can sometimes be an exhausting person to be around.

But when it came to my mental health, I lacked the energy to approach it with the same level of persistence.

My spirit was broken.

I couldn’t handle my own personality because ‘trying’ at all was just too much to ask. Why had everything become so insurmountable? Because I lacked the emotional bandwidth to even try.

If by some miracle I found energy and a mindset to return to therapy again, by then it was probably already too late. I had already gotten so far beyond the point of where I should have already asked for help ages ago.

Where do I even begin? Every session I’d have, I’d feel so lost that I questioned if i could even be helped anymore. Had I already set myself up for failure before I even began?

To add to that, therapy had already failed me over and over again in the past. Returning again to expect different results felt like a fool’s errand. So instead, I often gave up before I even began.

5. My Doubt

Power of positivity is scientifically proven to help people lead to success. I know manifestation/affirmations are annoying but unconscious beliefs about possibilities inform the level of effort and expectation of success from the body’s behavior. I probably could have gone farther in therapy had I believed in it. Or even better, if I had believed in myself.

6. My Self-Esteem

My brokenness turned me dark. Depression is not my natural state. Prior to developing PPD, I naturally had a self esteem so high its annoying. My excitement levels on any random topic were perpetually high. But now, I had reached the point of feeling worthless. I thought my body had run out of endorphins. Ruined things for myself from being too happy before. Broke my brain. It was a rough fall.

I was so far down in the pit that I thought I no longer deserved to be happy. What kind of woman greets motherhood with depression rather than joy?

I convinced myself that kind of mother isn’t worthy of spending even more time focusing on herself. I equated self care or carving out any dedicated time for therapy with selfishness. I often dismissed my own needs as not worth the trouble when I clearly had a crying baby in my arms who needed me more.

PPD can really mess with a new mother’s self-esteem and ability to stand up for what she needs.

So you can see I still hate talk therapy, but it’s also not all therapy’s fault.

There’s enough blame to go around.

Regardless, I still need to find a way to process my thoughts and emotions. The tool of therapy itself doesn’t jive with me. So it’s about time I find something that was more my style. Something that has the benefits of therapy but without all the baggage.

I returned to that same annoying piece of advice everyone has repeatedly told me.

“You just need to find the right fit.”

So you name it, I tried it. I investigated all kinds of alternatives to therapy.

Self-help books. Life coaching. Mom support groups. Ted Talks. Podcasts. Bullet journaling. Practicing mindfulness and intentionality. Meditation. Social media purges. Seeing more friends. Seeing less friends. The infamous self care. Even investigating new religions and life philosophies.

Went a bit off the deep end trying to find what would work for me. And well, I’m still working on it.

My Latest Self-Actualization Adventure

Well, you’re reading it — right now. It’s my writing. Brain dump. Edit. Refine. Therapy on my own time — on my own terms.

My thoughts. My emotions. All here in black and white right in front of me. Still messy. Still complicated. Still terrifying. But at least this time I’m really trying.

Hopefully, this one will stick. I guess we’ll just need to wait and see.

Note to reader: This is not in any way meant to serve as justification for you to quit therapy. My strong feelings on the subject should not sway you away from the hard work you’ve been doing or from finding the help you need.

But, if you find therapy doesn’t work for you too — don’t be discouraged. There are so many alternative routes for self-reflection and introspection. Be creative. Apologies in advance for the most annoying piece of therapy advice, but — “You just need to find the right fit.”

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A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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