Think Therapy Doesn't Work? 10 Signs That You May Need A Different Therapist

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Some individuals may go into therapy with high hopes, only to feel let down by unrealistic expectations if the situation doesn’t go as they had planned. They might feel that others are finding benefits from therapy that they aren’t. In some cases, people may also feel that therapy is not effective due to an adverse experience with one provider. 

Starting psychotherapy can be intimidating for people; however, finding a good fit from your prospective pool of therapists can be crucial to the quality of your experience. It’s important to remember that therapy is a journey, and progress may not always be linear. Many factors, including the therapeutic process and the patient’s mental health concerns, can impact the effectiveness of psychotherapy across client types.

If you've struggled with therapeutic experiences, you may have met with an incompatible counselor or tried the wrong type of therapy for your symptoms. Effective treatment may help you grow through challenges and better understand yourself and how your life experiences have impacted you. It can provide you with the tools and resources to meet your goals. However, if you’re not finding these benefits, it may be valuable to seek a new therapist. 

Research findings suggest that a “good” (read: strong and working) therapeutic alliance between the patient and therapist can be essential. If you don't feel like you've found the right fit, or feel like your expeirence “isn’t working,” don't give up. It can be helpful to remember that the result you want takes time, and that it can help you to keep looking for a therapist who can support you in your mental health journey. 

Read on to learn about possible reasons why therapy isn’t working, as well as the importance of a strong therapeutic alliance with your therapist of choice in treating a range of mental health concerns—such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and others.

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10 signs your counselor is not a suitable fit 

If you’re struggling with a counselor, it may be a sign that their therapeutic process (whether evidence-based or not) a suitable fit for your current needs. If they fit any of the below criteria, you may consider reaching out for a new provider or switching therapists. Studies show that a therapeutic and respect-based relationship with your provider can be essential for therapy effectiveness, especially in certain modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

1. They push their beliefs on you 

Your therapist can maintain individual beliefs outside of sessions. However, as a therapist, they are required to uphold the ethical code of conduct outlined by the American Psychological Association throughout their therapeutic approach. If they are creating a conflict of interest, judgment or explicit bias, they may be harming the therapeutic relationship. If they try to push spiritual, religious, political or cultural beliefs on you, it could signify they are overstepping their limits as a therapist within the therapeutic relationship. 

It's important to keep in mind that therapy is a process that involves hard work, dedication, and patience. It's not uncommon for patients to feel scared or vulnerable at times during their journey, and a good therapist will be able to help manage those feelings while providing guidance and support. There are many different therapies and approaches, so it's important to find the one that works best for your individual needs and preferences.

2. They only talk about themselves 

Your therapist’s job is generally to focus on your symptoms, treatment plan and therapy goals. You are paying them to support you as a professional. If they spend all of the session giving anecdotal evidence to their claims or discussing their personal life, it may take away from the time you paid for to talk about your concerns. 

If they continue to tell stories about themselves or turn the session back to themselves to talk about their life, you might not benefit from therapy with this provider. Experienced therapists might instead  pay attention to what you say, ask leading questions and provide valuable insight to you. If they bring up information about themselves, it may be tied to your situation and a brief relation to what you stated. 

3. You feel ashamed after your session

If your therapist judges your thoughts or actions, it may make you feel shame—and it also can be one of the signs of a bad therapist. If you feel uncomfortable talking about certain topics because of judgment or unkindness, you may consider why you feel this way. Are you feeling judged because of guilt or shame outside of your sessions, or has the therapist told you something that has hurt you? If your therapist is making judgmental commentary, you might choose to confront them and request that they stop. If it continues, consider looking for a new therapist. 

Additionally, if you ask your therapist to change their approach for you to feel more comfortable and they refuse because they are the therapist, they may not be respecting your goals or wishes as the client. Although they are professionals, you are hiring them for a service, and unhelpful commentary may do more harm than healing. 

4. You leave feeling worse 

There are times when you might feel worse after a therapy session if you are experiencing challenging symptoms or talked about complex topics during therapy. Therapy can be difficult and may push you to dig into profound emotions and discuss painful experiences. 

However, as you continue through your sessions and treatment, you may eventually leave feeling that you had a breakthrough or made progress. Over time, if you can look back to your first session and see that you’ve made changes for the better, it may mean therapy is working. If you’ve attended several sessions and feel worse than before, you can choose to let your therapist know. If you aren't satisfied with their solutions, it may signify an opportunity to change providers. 

6. Appointments are never available 

If you must wait weeks or months to get an appointment each time you meet your therapist, you might consider working with a different provider. Inconsistent sessions may affect your treatment plan. Although the therapist may be qualified, waiting long periods to talk to them can be challenging, especially if you’re experiencing an immediate conflict or distressing experience. Many healthy therapists will not take on more clients than they can handle, and may leave a few time slots open for cancellations or past clients to take advantage of. 

7. They are constantly checking their watch

If you notice your therapist checking the clock instead of focusing on your conversation, it may indicate a desire for the session to end. Although therapists may have a short window of time between appointments, the time you booked with them can be essential. If you feel that your therapist is preoccupied with their schedule or are often distracted, you might ask them about it. You can let them know you feel distracted by it or that you should wrap up what you’re saying before the time is up. 


8. No treatment plan has been discussed 

For many people, therapy can be a process. You might revisit it from time to time throughout your life but may not continue it every week forever. To know when you are ready to stop seeing your therapist, you may formulate a treatment plan with set goals. When you start therapy, you and your therapist may work together to establish the end goals for treatment and revisit them periodically to check your progress or set a new goal. If your therapist doesn’t create a treatment plan, it may be a warning sign. 

9. You feel uncomfortable 

Most therapists are dedicated to helping people with their mental health problems. However, it's not uncommon for some individuals to have a negative personal experience with a therapist. Unethical or unkind occurrences may happen in therapy that leave clients uncomfortable. In these situations, report your therapist to the board if they are breaking an ethical code or law. 

10. You hate going to therapy 

Therapy can be challenging. However, if you hate every session and don’t feel it has ever been enjoyable or helpful, it could mean you’re not connecting with your therapist. Although therapy might not be fun or exciting, it could still offer positive emotions from time to time. Many clients feel a professional and therapeutic connection with their therapists and may feel grateful for the service they provide. If you do not feel this way, consider why. 

It may be helpful to consider finding a different professional therapist who specializes in your specific mental illness. For example, a doctor who has experience with your condition may be able to provide more personalized and effective therapy. They can use their knowledge of psychology to help you understand and overcome fear or concern you may have.

How to find an effective therapist

If you haven't had success in the past, it may not mean that therapy doesn’t work for you. Studies show that 75% of clients utilizing therapy find it effective and beneficial. If you are part of the 25% that doesn’t, consider writing a pros and cons chart about your therapist. If you find that the cons outweigh the pros, look for a new provider. You can find a new therapist through the following methods. 

Start with a therapy “green flags” list

It can be helpful to create a list of all the “green flags” or positive qualities you’re looking for in a provider. As you do this, you can ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What format am I most comfortable communicating with my therapist?

  • What gender do I want my therapist to be? 

  • How old do I want them to be? 

  • Do I prefer an LGBTQ+ therapist?

  • Do I prefer a BIPOC therapist? 

  • Do I prefer a culturally or spiritually-informed therapist? 

  • What are my goals for therapy?

  • What type of therapy do I want to practice? 

  • Do I believe in medication?

  • How often do I want to attend sessions? 

  • Do I want to see a therapist in person or online? 

  • What are three adjectives I want my therapist to meet? (Ex: kind, empathetic, gentle) 

Having these questions answered may give you a place to start your search.

Ask for recommendations from others

Ask family and friends if they have any recommendations. However, note that what works for someone else may not work for you. You can also ask your primary care physician for a referral while letting them know your expectations for treatment. They may know of a provider that offers the form of therapy you’re looking for. 

Read online reviews

Many therapists have reviews online. You can read through them to find out what experiences others have had and the effectiveness of their treatment experiences. Reading reviews can help you know what to expect before you meet with a therapist for the first time.

Look at therapist credentials

You may feel that anyone who advertises themselves as a counselor is experienced and licensed. However, some people may illegally misrepresent themselves. It can be important to take the time to ensure your provider is licensed and that you feel comfortable with their education and experience level. 

Look for someone that specializes in your preferred treatment 

There are different types of therapy and different reasons that people seek therapy. It can be helpful to look for a therapist specializing in the kind of treatment you seek, whether you’re looking for behavioral therapy, internal family systems (IFS), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or another form of counseling. You can also look for therapists specializing in specific mental health conditions or symptoms like depression, panic attacks or phobias. 

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Try not to give up on counseling

One or a few negative experiences may not mean that therapy doesn't work. Many clients may go through several therapists before they find the proper fit. You can use your initial session or consultation to learn more about a therapist and decide together whether you would be a suitable fit. If not, it can be normal to move on and choose someone else. 

If you’re struggling to find a proper fit in person, online therapy may offer ease of finding a provider. With online therapy, you don’t have to worry about finding a nearby therapist with an open appointment or contacting multiple offices in the area to find someone qualified. Through a platform like BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who directly meets your needs related to treatment types, symptoms treated, reasons for therapy, goals, gender, sexuality, and race or ethnicity. You can also indicate if you have spiritual or religious beliefs you’d like to discuss in counseling. 

Multiple studies suggest that online therapy is effective. One review concluded that online cognitive-behavioral therapy can be beneficial in treating and managing symptoms of numerous conditions, including depression, anxiety, panic disorder, OCD, and bipolar disorder. If you’ve had trouble finding a therapist, online therapy might be the solution. 


In today's developed world, mental health is becoming increasingly important in improving one's overall quality of life. Understanding the human condition and the challenges that come with it is crucial to leading fulfilling lives. It can be frustrating to hear other people talk about the benefits of therapy if you haven’t had the same experience. If you’re ready to try again, consider signing up for an online platform or conducting another search in your area. Before meeting with a provider, get a sense for their communication style by calling them or sending an email to discuss their treatment approach and set an appointment for a short consultation.

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