I saw a professional for help for my mental health but it didn’t work – what do I do next?

We get told to seek support for our mental health

To reach out

Talk to someone

What if it doesn’t work?

 

It can be hard to know what to do if you have had an unhelpful experience with a mental health professional. 

Maybe you’re worried that your mental health issues are going to get worse, or you feel frustrated that the treatment you’ve received so far hasn’t helped you.

There is often stigma surrounding mental health, which can make seeking support hard for some. For many people, therapy can be seen as a treatment of last resort. Someone with depression or anxiety,  for example, may delay therapy for months or even years. Only reaching out for support when symptoms become so terrible that anything seems preferable to living another day with those feelings. 

A patient sometimes views therapy as a panacea—and one which they’ll only try when they’re languishing or life feels impossible—the disappointment you feel when therapy doesn’t work can be deep, and extremely discouraging.

One thing to keep in mind is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to mental wellbeing. 

Finding the right professional or professionals and finding the right kind of treatment and support is a fine balance. What has worked well for someone else may not work for you. 

The first treatment for mental illness, like for some physical health conditions, doesn’t always work. If you had heart disease, you wouldn’t throw up your hands and give up if your first medication didn’t give you results so don’t do the same with therapy! If you feel therapy has not worked for you, there are other options for feeling better.

So what do you do if it isn’t working?

Ask your therapist about next steps

If therapy isn’t working, the first person you should talk to is your therapist. They may be able to change their treatment plan or approach, give you more homework options, or even refer you onto someone else. 

Be honest or realistic about your issues 

Many people have shame and fear about discussing their most private thoughts and only share parts of their story with their therapist. For example, a young man might complain that all of his girlfriends leave him and he wants to work on his confidence and healthy dating behaviours; however, if he doesn’t mention that he smokes weed daily, stays up late in the evenings gaming online and has trouble managing his anger, he is unlikely to succeed at his initially stated goal.

Find the right professional

It can take a while to find a mental health professional who ‘clicks’ with you. In most cases, it’s helpful to see the same therapist for a few sessions before deciding whether to continue with them, as this will give the therapist time to get to know you and build a good relationship.

It’s also possible that you’re not engaging with therapy for reasons not related to the therapist, so it’s good to reflect on what else is going on for you.

Find the right treatment

The good news is, there are many evidence-based treatments for different mental health difficulties. These include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). You may need to change treatments. 

Talk to Your Doctor

Research suggests that, for many mental health conditions, combining therapy with medication is the best way to see results. If therapy isn’t working, it may be time to consider taking medication. If you already are, there are many different medications, including for common issues such as depression and anxiety. You may need to change medication or dosages. Sometimes, you need a combination of psychological therapy and medication. Talk to your GP about this. 

Sometimes health problems can interfere with your progress, and some physical health problems share common symptoms with mental health problems. So ask for blood work and give your doctor a specific, detailed list of your symptoms and health history.

Change takes time

Both medication and therapy take a while to start having an effect. It’s important to be realistic about your expectations.

For issues like depression, antidepressant medication can take four to six weeks to start working. For other issues such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it’s closer to 12 weeks. Psychological therapy also takes a number of sessions, 6–20, depending on severity and complexity, before you notice some positive changes take place. You can always ask your therapist what to expect.

Do Your Homework

Therapy isn’t brain magic. Therapy is hard work. 

Just as you’ll never learn to speak French if you don’t do your French homework, you’ll never learn to better manage your emotions and life if you don’t do your therapy homework. 

By doing your therapy homework, you’re enabling yourself to adopt new coping tools and strategies. Homework doesn’t have to be specific or pen and paper. It can be simply doing the things your therapist suggests with an open mind. If she asks you to focus on setting boundaries, give it a go, and keep trying. Learning something new takes practice and time. If your therapist doesn’t give you homework, time to start asking for some!

And finally, if this doesn’t work try a new therapist

The single best predictor of whether therapy will work is whether you and your therapist are a good fit. You can change approaches, talk about homework and they’re all great things. Deep down, you need to find someone you ‘click’ with. Who makes you feel accepted and heard. If your therapist isn’t offering you this, it’s time to try someone else.

If therapy isn’t working, consider whether your therapist is the right one for you. 

It can be deeply frustrating when therapy doesn’t work, but this is just the beginning of the journey, not the end. If you’re willing to research your condition, be a good advocate for yourself, and keep trying until something works, you can feel better sooner than you expect.

Directories for finding mental health professionals:

 

Remember that mental health is complex and that it’s not your fault if the help you’ve accessed hasn’t worked so far. Many different kinds of treatment are available. Even if it takes some trial-and-error, it’s important to remember that it’s possible for you to find the right support. 

– Marie

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