MY therapist called me the wrong name. I poured out my heart; my doctor looked at his watch. My psychiatrist told me I had to keep seeing him or I would be lost.
New patients tell me things like this all the time. And they tell me how former therapists sat, listened, nodded and offered little or no advice, for weeks, months, sometimes years. A patient recently told me that, after seeing her therapist for several years, she asked if he had any advice for her. The therapist said, “See you next week.”
When I started practicing as a therapist 15 years ago, I thought complaints like this were anomalous. But I have come to a sobering conclusion over the years: ineffective therapy is disturbingly common.
Talk to friends, keep your ears open at a cafe, or read discussion boards online about length of time in therapy. I bet you’ll find many people who have remained in therapy long beyond the time they thought it would take to solve their problems. According to a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, 42 percent of people in psychotherapy use 3 to 10 visits for treatment, while 1 in 9 have more than 20 sessions.
For this 11 percent, therapy can become a dead-end relationship. Research shows that, in many cases, the longer therapy lasts the less likely it is to be effective. Still, therapists are often reluctant to admit defeat.