How to Stick With Therapy When It Gets Tough

Asma Rehman, LPC on Nov 18, 2022 in Mood and Feelings

How to Stick With Therapy When You Want to Quit

Therapy isn't always easy. Actually, it can be very, very hard. Unfortunately, this fact can lead people to quit before they get the most out of it.

Maybe you find yourself in this situation — you didn't know therapy could be quite so painful, and you just want to call it a day.

On the other hand, you might want to leave because you feel you're not making any progress. Maybe therapy feels like a waste of time and money at this point.

Both are totally understandable, and we're willing to bet almost everyone who's been in therapy has felt like this. But you don't want to leave for the wrong reasons. Sticking with therapy could make all the difference, so let's take a look at each issue.

You Have to "Feel It to Heal It"

As nice as it would be, we can't flip a switch and "turn off" our negative emotions. In fact, avoidance is often one of the main factors that helps perpetuate mental health issues.

A person with trauma, for instance, may avoid certain experiences or locations, limiting what they can do in life. OCD sufferers can perform time-consuming compulsions that temporarily reduce anxiety until the urge arises again later. Those with depression may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to escape their negative feelings — the list goes on.

Avoiding therapy could just be a way of avoiding the pain, but ultimately, you have to "feel it to heal it."

Therapy teaches you coping methods, a new way of viewing these issues. In the case of exposure therapy, you'll face your fears head on. Working on all this can be incredibly taxing, but it's part of the process.

So don't give up on therapy just because it feels miserable right now. There's a good chance that, in a month or two, you'll feel much better. The emotional work you're putting in is an investment, and short-term pain will lead to long-term gain in the form of a freer, happier life. Compared to the rest of your life, therapy is just a drop in the bucket, even when it's painful.

One of the best methods to help you stick with therapy is to think about how much better your life would be without the difficulties you're addressing. Realize that it's worth it — your ultimate happiness and fulfillment are worth it.

Ask your therapist about drawing up a "cost-benefit analysis." This is basically a fancy pros and cons list that can motivate you to continue with therapy by highlighting the benefits of doing so, along with the drawbacks of not tackling your issues.

Also, ask your therapist if it's possible to adjust your treatment. They may be able to slow things down or reduce the intensity of what you're doing so that the process is not as difficult and you have an easier time sticking with therapy.

The Slog of Therapy

On the other hand, you may just want to quit therapy because it feels like a slog.

Anyone who's been to therapy knows about the "slog" — you feel you've hit a plateau, and any kind of progress in dealing with your thoughts, feelings, or conditions seems to have stopped. You're just kind of talking about the same thing, week after week, maybe going way off-topic to fill in the time.

You feel as if you're just going to therapy in order to... go to therapy.

If you're in this situation, talk to your therapist. Tell them exactly how you're feeling. Together, you can evaluate where you are in your treatment, what your remaining goals are, and how you can achieve them.

In other words, you can set out a clear path for how you're going to proceed week by week.

If you haven't been doing all your homework assignments, now's the time to be honest so your therapist can help you address what's holding you back.

It's also possible you need a fresh perspective on things in order to progress — ask your therapist for book recommendations related to your issue, or consider joining a support group (stories from other people going through the same experiences can provide insight into your own life).

Sometimes, you might also want to take a break. Instead of talking about what brought you into therapy, take a week to talk about your hobbies. Taking a bit of a break from very intense subject matter can help you recuperate and perhaps find clarity.

When Should I Quit?

Therapy is not supposed to go on forever — eventually it will come to an end. So when should you leave?

For one, if you feel your issues have been thoroughly dealt with, it may be time to leave. Leave on good terms with your therapist so that they'll be happy to see you should you have any setbacks.

Overall, don't make an impulsive decision to stop going to therapy. Discuss things with your therapist, and use your own best judgment. Ask yourself why you want to leave and see if it's a legitimate reason.

For instance, if you're trying to treat your OCD and your therapist doesn't seem to know much about OCD... it's a good idea to find a therapist who does! But if you want to leave because exposure therapy feels like it's killing you, talk to your therapist first.

Wrapping Up

If you feel like quitting therapy and you haven't made any progress, talk to your therapist. Evaluate why you want to quit and why you're not making any progress. Again, there may be a legitimate reason to find a new therapist. If not, however, consider that sticking with therapy now, even though it's the hardest thing you've ever done, may be the best decision you've ever made.

Asma Rehman is a Counselor in Houston, TX.

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