After Years of Therapy, I’m Ready to Give Up. Am I Hopeless?

I am 24 years old and have been in therapy for four years, three of those with one therapist. I quit, kind of out of the blue, a couple of weeks ago. I've made some changes in my life, small ones. I have been in therapy dealing with childhood sexual abuse and PTSD and all sorts of other problems. But I've hit a point where I feel like it's been a long time, and all of those ingrained thoughts and feelings about myself are still the same. I feel that I have worked hard over the past few years to change for the better, but I'm tired and ready to give up. I'm still so messed up in so many ways and I've been blindly fumbling around, trying to find that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, but it's been years and I still don't see it. Is it even worth it to keep trying to change? I do want to change, but it's hard to believe that I'm capable of it. —Done
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Dear Done,

Thanks so much for your question. Boy, it sounds like you’re going through a really tough time, and I’m sorry to hear about your childhood abuse; I know how intrusive and debilitating posttraumatic stress symptoms can be. What’s kind of a “double whammy” here is the fact therapy doesn’t seem to be helping. What’s interesting to me is that it sounds as though it’s all up to you to make it work, when in fact the therapist is a 50/50 collaborator in the process. It’s sad to me you feel you’re “blindly” fumbling around, as if you have no help finding direction. I always challenge my clients when they take whole blame for any “stuckness.” Therapist and client form a system, like two atoms in a molecule, and every relational system seems to reach a kind of homeostasis, or regular pattern, which on the one hand provides a sense of stability and reliability, but on the other can lead to the sort of stalemate you’re talking about. I would agree with you that you’re not capable of change by yourself; your therapist needs to be an active participant, and the way you describe therapy makes it sound as though there’s tremendous distance between you two.

I’m also curious as to what made you decide to quit at that particular juncture. A sense of boredom? Frustration? Sometimes it takes time to get to a point where change begins, but until then it can feel eternally slow. I’m not saying that’s happening here, but sometimes we hit a wall, and just beyond the wall is a new phase. Always darkest before the dawn, as the cliché goes. Sometimes it’s true.

I want to tell you that—and I have zero doubt about this—your therapist is part of the problem here, and the solution. Therapy is, in part, a business arrangement, and as the customer you are not satisfied and have every right to voice your concerns. I would strongly encourage you to have at least one more session and air your true feelings. Let it all hang out; we’re professionals, but we’re not perfect, and feedback is terribly important. Yes, it’s true that we are “experts” of a kind, but psychology is not medicine (it’s part art/part science, in my view). Everyone is different and comes with his or her own history, perceptions, feelings and interpretations that warrant close exploration so that you and your therapist can co-construct a way of working that you both feel is productive and going somewhere. It’s almost like co-creating a language that exists solely within the “psychic sphere” of therapy, to borrow Freud’s phrase.

On another note: One of the many sad things about trauma is it can challenge us in forming attachments to others, including, of course, to the therapist. He or she may become an authority or parental figure whom we are afraid to confront, but clients often report that it is very healing for them to tell me the truth when something bothers them, and to have me listen and understand each of our contributions so we can work it through. Some of the very best work happens when a client is unhappy with something and we process it. Additionally, there are often beliefs about the self based on past abuse that have to be brought to light. Some may unconsciously feel they “deserve” to suffer because of the belief that they brought the trauma on themselves. To a child, assuming they are the cause is less frightening than no cause at all. I hear a note of this when you ask if you are capable of change. Everyone is capable of change, my friend—in fact, we are changing every second of every day! We are organic, physically and psychologically. It’s the illusion or experience of staying the same that is so painful. (The new gray hairs I saw in the mirror today are testament to this.)

There are even unconscious motives for change not to happen, in some cases. Abuse and mistreatment are often, tragically, the only way some caretakers have ever related to their children; clinging to the symptoms is, symbolically (for some), a way of holding on to Mom or Dad. Some would rather believe they are bad than accept that their caretaker, often idealized, treated them so horribly. It’s like losing a parent, and the underlying grief and loss can create terrible apprehension. All of this needs to be explored in the consulting room.

I’m describing a very psychodynamic way of working, by the way. There are other modalities to employ with these types of injuries, including cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, somatic experiencing, neurofeedback, spirituality, peer support, and so forth. I use an eclectic mix, depending on what the client finds helpful. But again, without sustained feedback, I don’t know what’s helpful.

You might also look into a peer support group instead of, or in addition to, individual treatment. Finding a group of people who can relate and accept you as you are, because of (not in spite of) your challenges, can be tremendously healing.

Please don’t give up. I recommend that you talk to your therapist or try with another one, and ask for a treatment plan or set of goals that you both agree are obtainable and desirable. Each goal should have specific methods or ways of working that you both, again, feel comfortable with. The technique of therapy shouldn’t be a mystery; there are many unknowns, of course, but this isn’t hocus pocus and there have been some tried-and-true methods shown to work over the past hundred years. The key one appears to be a trusting relationship with your therapist, and I think that even if you decide this one ultimately isn’t for you, you deserve a fair hearing as to why you’re unhappy and the changes you’d really like to see (and what seems to be getting in the way). You don’t and shouldn’t have to go through this alone.

Respectfully,
Darren

Darren Haber
Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
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  • maryanne

    maryanne

    July 19th, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    May be instead of focusing on changing yourself start with accepting yourself first? I’m a survivor of abuse too and then had eating disorder (anorexia) and nothing really helped until I really just was like “ok this is me. I’m ok like this” It’s still not easy, but when I am ok with me like first it’s easier to try to change. But not feel guilty all the time. Be yourself and good luck

  • Tamara

    Tamara

    July 20th, 2013 at 1:32 AM

    BTDT.Feeling stuck in therapy is not weird or uncommon.but how you respond to this feeling can make or break it for you.being open and honest is the best way.you are not going to lose anything by speaking the truth now do you?in fact airing your views and feelings may give your therapist a better insight about you and let him or her see a whole new side of you which in turn could help the therapy.go ahead and speak out for there is nothing to lose.

  • Courtney t

    Courtney t

    July 20th, 2013 at 4:55 AM

    Maybe you have just been with the wrong therapist.
    I wouldn’t give up on the process now- you have so much time and energy invested and it seems like you want to make those steps toward change but you just haven’t been offered the right guide map yet.
    There is so much that is beneficial to therapy and I think that you know that.
    You have just got to get with the right person/ group to help you find the way.
    I wish you the best of luck!

  • Joseph

    Joseph

    July 20th, 2013 at 6:05 AM

    I don’t think that there is anyone here reading who would ever say that you are hopeless. But I do think that you are still seeking, and that’s a good thing. Don’t give up on that.

  • Darren Haber MFT

    Darren Haber MFT

    July 21st, 2013 at 10:20 PM

    Thanks for the responses, very positive and thoughtful.

  • dave r

    dave r

    July 22nd, 2013 at 4:17 AM

    There are so many different methods that you could try, I wouldn’t give up on it until I had tried something else too.
    It has to feel like you are pretty helpless if you have been in therapy for this long and you don’t think that you have seen any changes.
    But I would bet that if you really looked hard at where you were when you started and where you are now then you would see some big changes.
    It is hard to see that wehen we look at it all in small pieces, day after day, but then you step back and look at where you were this time last year or maybe two years agao, then I am sure that you will see that there have indeed been some big changes and that you are making steps in the right direction.

  • Elise Fuller

    Elise Fuller

    July 22nd, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    Very well said Darren. I really appreciate you sharing your current situations and feelings Done. I am inspired by your decision to seek additional advice on this site, it is a testament to your own dedication to get “un-stuck.” While you haven’t found the road you are looking for, YET, I believe your determination and willingness to keep trying will ultimately get you to where you would like to be. I agree that your counselor may not have been holding up their end of the contract, which is dissapointing! I hope that Darren’s message speaks to you and you seek a new counselor for a fresh perspective. In my opinion, you will know if this counselor offers something different within the first session or two. If it feels like the same old, same old – then keep looking.

    Groups are also a great suggestion! Best of luck!

  • Elise Fuller, MA, LPC-Intern

    Elise Fuller, MA, LPC-Intern

    July 22nd, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    Very well said Darren. I really appreciate you sharing your current situations and feelings Done. I am inspired by your decision to seek additional advice on this site, it is a testament to your own dedication to get “un-stuck.” While you haven’t found the road you are looking for, YET, I believe your determination and willingness to keep trying will ultimately get you to where you would like to be. I agree that your counselor may not have been holding up their end of the contract, which is dissapointing! I hope that Darren’s message speaks to you and you seek a new counselor for a fresh perspective. In my opinion, you will know if this counselor offers something different within the first session or two. If it feels like the same old, same old – then keep looking.

    Groups are also a great suggestion! Best of luck!

  • Laurel

    Laurel

    July 22nd, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    Perhaps you are going about all this in the wrong way, and I am not saying that to be critical at all. Here’s the thought-
    maybe you are going into this feeling like you are bad, you have done somethings in life that are wrong and that you need to change them./
    Wouldn’t it be better though to say you know what? I did it, I accept this, and I am ready to move ahead and look forward.
    There is no changing yesterday, so why not discover ways to be more comfortable with who you are, your past, your journey that you have taken thus far to become the person that you are today.
    I know that finding the right professional to work with can help you achieve this. You are not hopeless, you are important, and now is the best time to discover that!

  • Darren Haber MFT

    Darren Haber MFT

    July 23rd, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    Thanks again for the wonderful responses.

  • Filomena

    Filomena

    July 24th, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    I am giving up too, Darren.
    I have done my best and Im old now,with depression and eating disorder passes to kids. I was beautiful and raped. Bipolar. Eating Disorder. Abused. I help the sick get ready to die and entertain them on there way out. I have a child.with down syndrome that is 16, too. My favorite place is laying in bed til the adderal kicks in

  • admin2

    admin2

    July 25th, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Hi Filomena,
    Thank you so much for your comment. We are concerned for you and want to make sure you aware of available resources that may be of help. It sounds like you are in crisis, and we want to stress that it’s very important that you get immediate help! You can do one of the following:

    • Call your local law enforcement agency (911);
    • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room;
    • If you are in the US, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TTY:1-800-799-4TTY)
    • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is equipped to take a wide range of calls, from immediate suicidal crisis to providing information about mental health. Call to speak with someone who cares; call if you feel you might be in danger of hurting yourself; call to find referrals to mental health services in your area; call to speak to a crisis worker about someone you’re concerned about.

    Please know that if you are international the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline might not be able to help you, but you can still go to your local law enforcement agency, and go to your nearest hospital.

    We wish you the very best,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • tim barnes

    tim barnes

    February 11th, 2014 at 4:52 PM

    I’ve had serious relationship and career issues since my combat in iraq ( feb 2003-feb2004) suicidal tendancies are the least and possibly the best of options ihave. I’m tired and done with being a wounded warrior. I want my quality of life to improve. Just wanna forget and b done with all of ut and b done with it.. but all help wants money, or combat reports, or things I’m not ready to f*** with.. just want ky life back. Best wishes to all of you.

  • GT Support

    GT Support

    February 12th, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    Thank you for your comment, Tim. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at https://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Megan

    Megan

    July 18th, 2014 at 10:34 PM

    I’m very disappointed in this site trying to tell people to go call 911. Our mental system has failed us.

  • Landry

    Landry

    December 1st, 2014 at 4:39 PM

    I broke my neck playing highschool ball an didn’t do anything about it long story short I’m in constant pain can’t sleep nothing helps pills are pointless I’m just waiting to die an hopefully that sweet release will come soon but since I’m 19 doubt it will…. Best of luck to all

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    December 2nd, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    Hi Landry,

    We received the comment that you submitted on our blog earlier today. Thank you so much for visiting GoodTherapy.org. If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, in danger of hurting yourself or others, feeling suicidal, overwhelmed, or in crisis, it’s very important that you get immediate help! You can do one of the following immediately:

    • Call your local law enforcement agency (911);
    • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room;
    • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TTY:1-800-799-4TTY)

    The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is equipped to take a wide range of calls, from immediate suicidal crisis to providing information about mental health. Some of the reasons to call are listed below:
    • Call to speak with someone who cares;
    • Call if you feel you might be in danger of hurting yourself;
    • Call to find referrals to mental health services in your area;
    • Call to speak to a crisis worker about someone you’re concerned about.

    If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can call your local hotline and/or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) (TTY 1−800−787−3224)

    RAINN provides support for sexual assault victims and their loved ones through two hotlines at 800.656.HOPE and Online.RAINN.org. Whether you are more comfortable on the telephone or online, RAINN has services that can guide you in your recovery.
    • The National Sexual Assault Hotline: If you need support, call 800.656.HOPE, and you will be directed to a rape crisis center near your area.
    • The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline: is the first secure web-based crisis hotline providing live and anonymous support through an interface as intuitive as instant messaging.
    • For more information visit http://rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-online-hotline.

    Warm regards,

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

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