5 Things Your Therapist Wants You to Stop Doing ASAP

Are you diminishing the value of your sessions without realizing it?

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Medically reviewed in December 2021

Updated on February 16, 2023

“There’s a big misconception that you have to be in severe anguish or your life has to be disarray in order to go to therapy,” says Peter Thomas, PhD, a licensed psychologist at Medical City McKinney in Texas.

The type of psychotherapy a person receives depends on different factors like their particular mental health issue and circumstances, as well as personal preference.

Therapy is for all levels of discomfort—you don’t have to be hurt or hurting to seek help, says Dr. Thomas. Job loss, stress, relationship troubles, death of a loved one—there’s a number of reasons why people might seek treatment. 

And still, American adults are experiencing serious psychological distress now more than ever before, reports a 2017 study published in the journal Psychiatric Services. This type of distress is defined as a combination of feelings, such as worthlessness, restlessness and sadness, severe enough to affect a person’s physical health.

Whether you’re currently in therapy, or thinking about going, make the most out of your sessions by avoiding these therapy mistakes.

1. You aren’t an active participant. “As a psychologist, I really want a lot of my clients to stop thinking that just going to therapy is enough. You have to do more than show up and talk—you have to participate. It takes a collaboration (between doctor and patient) to make treatment work,” explains Thomas.

A good portion of where progress is made isn’t in that weekly therapy session—its taking what you’ve learned and practicing that outside of the session, he adds.

2. You save the biggest revelations for last. Sometimes clients come in and talk for the whole session, and as they’re about to leave, they throw out a major piece of information, explains Thomas.

Psychologists refer to this as doorknob bombs—when patients leave the session hanging on this big, important thing. But why would patients, some of whom are presumably paying out of pocket to attend therapy, do this?

Often times people are embarrassed, fearful or ashamed of that issue so they wait until the last minute to bring it up, says Thomas. Even after the session, patients might still feel embarrassed—so much so that they never return to therapy.

Thomas’ advice: Push yourself to get to those topics early in the session, so you can get some resolution. If you’re feeling scared or ashamed about a certain issue, then heed Thomas’ advice:

  • Trust your therapist, chances are your therapist has heard it before.
  • Therapy is a safe space to talk. You won’t be ridiculed about anything you mention during your session.
  • Talking brings about resolution.

3. You think: My therapist only cares because I’m paying them to care. Sometimes clients may grapple with the thought: Does my doctor really care about me, or are they being supportive because they’re paid to do so?

This issue comes up a lot, especially with people experiencing issues with self-esteem or depression, explains Thomas.

As therapists, we try to be as authentic and genuine as possible; it’s important for clients to hear and accept that, and let that in, Thomas says. When patients shut out that supportive feedback, they miss out on a pleasant, corrective, emotional experience.

“My training and schooling did not train me to care, I’m a caring person who was trained.”

4. You’re a people-pleaser. “Being a good client doesn’t mean you’re getting better,” says Thomas. Patients get too preoccupied with what their therapist feels or thinks about them, and that derails real progress.

In order to make the most out of therapy, you need to be real with yourself and with your therapist.

5. You ghost your therapist. People stop attending therapy for different reasons: they feel they’re finished and ready to go, they don’t think it was really helping, or they have trouble with goodbyes. 

The most compelling reason not to ghost, according to Thomas: Life doesn’t have enough good endings. As he sees it, the nature of therapy and the strengths of the therapeutic relationship can give clients one neat gift: a fulfilling, positive ending that provides closure.

If you want to stop therapy because of your actual therapist, let them know.

“I’m not the right fit for everyone and that’s OK, but I can try to point you in the right direction or refer you to another therapist.”

There are some people who might benefit from therapy but just aren’t ready or motivated yet. In Thomas’ experience, sometimes people come in just to talk about the process of therapy and what it involves.

“It’s like the saying, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink,” Thomas says. “Well, part of my job is to make them thirsty.”

Medically reviewed in December 2019.

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