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My psychologist isn't helping. Does therapy work for everyone? Add to ...

The question

I’ve been seeing a therapist for 8 months. I’m unhappy with my life and feel like I’m not the best mother I could be. The thing is, I don’t feel like therapy is helping at all. My situation and my outlook hasn’t improved. Do I just need to be patient? Or does seeing a psychologist not help some people?

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The answer

At the risk of sounding biased, I firmly believe that we can all benefit from the support, perspective and guidance of an objective, competent, and specialized professional for various issues at different points in our lives. This is true for any area of life with which we are struggling - physical health (physician), our taxes (accountant), selling a home (realtor), or our emotional health (psychologist/psychiatrist).

Although I don’t have enough information on your difficulties and history to provide you with a sense of how long you may need treatment for, I can let you know that the research indicates that individuals with the most common types of psychological concerns (i.e., uncomplicated depression, anxiety, and relationship difficulties) experience significant benefit after an average of 12-16 treatment sessions.

Individuals with more complicated histories or concerns (such as childhood history of trauma or chronic suicidality) experience benefit with about 24 sessions. Certainly 8 months is a long enough period of time for you to have started to experience some significant benefits from therapy. It is wise of you to pay attention to the feeling you have that your current therapy is not helping you, as that is giving you an important message that you need to do something different.

The beneficial impact of therapy is dependent on a number of important factors. Here are a few considerations:

1. As with any other relationship with a professional, a good fit between you and the service provider is important. I believe this fit is even more important to the success of a psychologist/patient relationship than others, given that patients are having to expose themselves emotionally and are addressing issues such as fears, insecurities, and other core vulnerabilities. Ask yourself whether you feel there is a good fit with the psychologist you are seeing in terms of their approach, style, and personality.

2. You describe feeling unhappy with life in general and with respect to your parenting style. Does the psychologist you are seeing have expertise in dealing with depression and mood issues? Parenting issues?

3. In every single profession, individuals range in terms of their competence levels. Ensure that the psychologist is up to date on advances in treatment approaches, and takes an evidence-based treatment approach (which means providing treatment techniques that research has shown are effective). Ask the psychologist directly about the types of treatment approaches he/she uses and the rationale for such.

4. Finally, have you communicated with the psychologist about how you are feeling about treatment not being effective? A good psychologist will not get defensive, and will openly address your frustration with the lack of progress. He or she should suggest a different treatment approach, or suggest an alternate type of treatment and/or alternate professional.

If, after considering the above and after having a candid discussion with your psychologist, you feel that there are still no shifts or improvements, I would suggest seeking out another psychologist.

Send psychologist Joti Samra your questions at psychologist@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Samra.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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