About a year and a half ago, I was going through one of the lowest points of my life. I was in my first year of sobriety and I was struggling to adjust to my new lifestyle. Meanwhile, I was stuck in a job that I couldn’t stand and my personal life seemed to be falling apart. My depression and anxiety — which I had spent a decade masking with alcohol — were now getting worse by the day.
I finally realized I needed outside help, and booked a session with a local therapist.
The first session went well. I gave the therapist a rundown of what was going on in my life, and what I wanted to work on. He was friendly and seemed confident that he could help me address my issues. I decided to start going regularly.
From the second session on, I began to feel like I had made a mistake. I think my therapist was a good person and well-intentioned, but not very good at actually providing me with any help. Session after session went by, and I felt like we were just repeating the same conversation again and again.
My therapist also had some serious issues with professionalism — he almost always started the sessions late, and he frequently rescheduled sessions with only a few hours notice. He even switched offices and forgot to tell me until the day of our session.
Despite all of these obvious red flags, I kept going back to our sessions for nearly a year before we parted ways. When I finally stopped going, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I was left wondering: why didn’t I stop sooner?
Deferring to the Expert
One of the reasons I stayed so long is because I had a lot of trouble judging whether my therapist was doing a good job or not. His lack of professionalism was an objective problem, but as far as the therapy itself went, I really couldn’t tell (at least at first).
A lot of the advice that my therapist gave me seemed like bad advice, but since he was trained and I wasn’t, I thought that it made more sense to defer to the expert. I assumed that I was the one who was wrong, which is a fair assumption to make. I’m not a therapist, counselor, or psychologist, and I hardly know anything about therapy.
The reason that most of us go to therapy isn’t just to get an objective look at our life, but also to get professional, expert help. As laypeople, it can be difficult to judge whether a professional is actually an expert, or just good at projecting an air of confidence.
“Progress Takes Time”
One obvious way to evaluate a therapist is to see whether they are helping you make positive changes in your life. The problem is, progress really can take time.
While I was in therapy, I didn’t feel like it was helping me much, but I thought that I just needed to be patient. I was worried that if I broke off the therapy too soon, I’d end up just hopping from one therapist to another without ever making any real progress.
I kept hoping that if I went long enough, maybe I’d hit a tipping point where suddenly the therapy would start helping. Unfortunately, that tipping point never came.
How Social Anxiety Played a Role
Another reason that I stuck with this therapist for so long was that it just felt too awkward to leave. I know that this might sound ridiculous, but I had a lot of trouble with the idea of telling him that I didn’t want to continue therapy. I’ve had a lot of social anxiety issues in my life, and I often find myself going way too far to avoid awkward conversations.
My therapist always scheduled our next session as the current session was ending. In order to stop going, I knew I’d have to either tell him in person that I didn’t want to schedule another session, or I’d have to schedule another session and then cancel it. Both of these ideas felt overwhelming to me.
Another thing that felt overwhelming was the idea of finding a replacement therapist. Searching for a therapist was uncomfortable for me the first time, and I was in no hurry to repeat the process again. I wondered what would happen if I didn’t like the next one. Would I just move from therapist to therapist indefinitely?
My therapist’s professionalism issues got worse as the sessions went on. He started canceling more and more of our sessions last minute. I finally hit my breaking point and quit.
As I said before, leaving felt like a huge weight off my shoulders. Therapy is just like any other profession: there are some who do it well and others who don’t. Unlike most professions though, in therapy, the clients are in uniquely vulnerable positions. If you’re feeling stuck with a bad therapist (or even just one that doesn’t click with you) don’t be afraid to find someone else. If you’re like me, you’ll feel a lot better once you do.