The failed therapist trap

Ever find yourself feeling deflated when a client doesn’t shift or gets stuck in therapy? 

You can see where they need to shift to and what needs to be done but not matter which way you come at it or how many times you practice skills or repeat an experiential exercise your client remains stuck.

And this can leave you feeling deflated.

This topic came up  recently in discussion with another clinical psychologist as we both lamented the difficulties creating change in each of our long term clients.

It also regularly comes up with peers who seek supervision and mentoring with me.

It’s important to ask yourself

Who does this feeling belong to? 

Is it mine, from a sense of feeling defective or like a failure as a therapist? 

Or is it the hopelessness and despair of my client being felt in the transference?

If the sense of deflation comes from a sense of being defective or failing as a therapist this blog is for you.

Check in with  your beliefs about client and therapist responsibility for change. 

Check  for any omnipotent therapist myths or fantasies you may be buying into 

Check in with your beliefs about time frames for change. 

Check in with your beliefs about yourself and what is reasonable to achieve.

Check that you are reviewing this client’s care with peer and formal supervisors.

Many of us are trained in brief models of therapy or symptoms focused models. These approaches can be fantastic for some clients and some problems.

But… they also strongly contribute to therapist’s feeling like they have failed or aren’t good enough, especially if you have existing schemas that feeds this kind of interpretation (defectiveness, failure, approval seeking and unrelenting standards I’m looking at you).

Because these models  sometimes fail to address major things that can stop a client progressing in the way a successful brief therapy would look.  

Things like 

-not currently having access to their own traumatic material or more subtle developmental trauma

-many, many years of being a human before coming to see you with patterns that sort of work that they are afraid of letting go of, -secondary gain from staying stuck (whether conscious or unconsciously understood by the client)

So if you find yourself feeling deflated, don’t hide.

Seek supervision, treat yourself with self-compassion,  check if what is happening is activating your schemas. Consider adjusting some of your beliefs about brief therapy models.

Of course in some situations referring out is in the client’s best interest.

But often, it is a case of needing to give your client time, space to discover and heal. And that means allowing yourself to be a therapist who gives themselves the same grace.

To book a supervision session with me click here

Scroll to Top