Bored with Therapy: Unmasking the Real Feelings Behind ‘Boredom’

Bored-looking person sits alone in waiting room, leaning forward, hands foldedHas it happened to you? A few months into therapy and you’re scratching your head wondering what you’re still doing here. Things started off so strong. You were exploring your relationships or talking about work issues, maybe even venturing into a little family history. Maybe things have been a little better since you started. Maybe things haven’t changed much. Perhaps they even seem a bit worse since you’ve been talking about all these difficult things you’d rather not think about.

But you’ve gone over all that material and you’re still coming in each week. You’re still paying hard-earned money. And you’re still not being told what you should do differently.

You spend the whole time traveling to your appointment trying to come up with something to talk about, some problem in your life, some point of conversation that will take you through 45 minutes before you return to work or head home.

And you’ve come up with nothing.

And now you’re in a staring contest with your therapist, who doesn’t seem to be coming up with anything, either.

And you think to yourself, I’m bored.

So you skip an appointment and “take the week off.”

You may consider this boring feeling a signal you should move on.

You might text or email your therapist and say you’re done. You’ll call in a few weeks if you need anything.

When reflecting on this, you’ll say to someone, “You know, therapy just didn’t work for me.” There’s no hard feelings, just … it’s not for you.

As both a therapist and a person who has been in therapy, I can empathize. I’ve felt all of these things at one time or another. But I’ve come to understand something about “boredom”: I’m not convinced it really exists.

I like to talk about anger as often being a secondary emotion. It can be used, often unconsciously, to protect us from feeling (or showing) some of our more vulnerable emotions, such as fear, insecurity, and sadness.

But anger can be just pure anger. I’m not convinced boredom is, in and of itself, its own thing.

When I notice I’m feeling bored, I tend to get curious. What else is in there? What am I avoiding? What is the “boredom” protecting me from?

When I notice I’m feeling bored, I tend to get curious. What else is in there? What am I avoiding? What is the “boredom” protecting me from?

Back in my performing years, when I’d spend evenings in rehearsals for off-off-Broadway productions that didn’t pay and days in corporate offices as a temp, I remember spending hours doing mindless data entry. I became “bored” pretty quickly. But as I later came to realize, what I really felt was anger that I had to be there at all as opposed to making a living doing what I wanted to do.

I’ve even been to parties where I felt bored, but, upon further digging, I was feeling kind of insecure. Likewise, I have days when I’m at home and think I’m bored, but what I really want in those moments is to hang out with others. That is, I’m actually feeling lonely.

Boredom covers for all of these feelings. Because who wants to be angry at work, self-conscious at a party, or lonely at home?

When a person in therapy starts to talk about feeling “bored” in therapy, especially around the three-month mark, I’m psyched. I’m psyched because they said it and didn’t just fade away, as many do. They are creating an opportunity with their therapist to process the feelings beneath their “boredom.”

Some are upset because they’ve been coming week after week, spending a lot of money, and they want results! They want me to tell them what to do or what not to do. They want to know if there is going to be relief.

I may not have the answers to these questions. I may not be able to put their mind at ease with a timeline or guarantee, but I will provide the space for them to express what they usually squelch and speak about some new ways to handle it all. I’ll provide a space to let out the anger, the frustration, the sadness, the hopelessness, the whatever, and see that it’s not going to push me away. That it’s not going to destroy them.

Once the real feeling is expressed, therapy gets real. And it’s anything but boring.

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Justin Lioi, MSW, LCSW, Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • talitha

    June 20th, 2017 at 11:18 AM

    or that boredom could actually be fear of moving to the next level

  • Justin Lioi

    June 20th, 2017 at 1:54 PM

    Great point, and very true!

  • Allen M

    June 21st, 2017 at 7:02 AM

    My daughter never liked going because I think that at the root of it all she was afraid to know what she would learn about her self. She was afraid of the whole process. I think that after she got over some of that she has had some very strong breakthroughs, this with the help of antidepressants has turned her into a different person but in a good way. She can now enjoy her life in a way that I don’t think that she has ever been able to before this. Overall after the initial breaking in period it has been a positive experience for all of us.

  • Justin Lioi

    June 21st, 2017 at 5:24 PM

    That’s wonderful to hear–thanks for sharing!

  • Clara

    June 23rd, 2017 at 1:01 PM

    As a professional in the field would you ever be offended if a patient told you that he or she was bored and wanted to try to do things differently? Would you try to dissuade them and tell them that this is the only way or would you be willing to bend and try to lead them in a different direction bu trying new things?
    I’m just curious how you or others would respond in a case like that.

  • Justin Lioi

    June 23rd, 2017 at 5:45 PM

    Clara, thanks for your question. I suppose it would depend on the situation as to how I would feel, but one of the things I love about being a therapist is that how I feel in a situation helps to inform me about what the client is dealing with. We learn to separate what is my reaction based on dynamics in my life, and what is being induced in me by my client. It’s good information for helping me figure out what to do next.
    Two clients saying they’re bored would probably mean two different things. If I were offended, I’d need to look into myself as to why I was, and how I could use that understand what was going on between myself and the client.
    As for your second question, Irvin Yalom teaches that we should (and I’m paraphrasing) create a new therapy with each client and I agree!

  • Clara

    June 26th, 2017 at 9:17 AM

    Thanks for the insight!

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