What To Talk About In Therapy For A More Productive Session
If you feel like your progress in therapy has slowed to an agonizing crawl — or even come to a complete stop — you're not alone. Many people report feeling stuck in therapy after a while. It's not necessarily a bad thing, or a sign that your particular therapy isn't working. What does matter, experts tell Bustle, is how you deal with it. Making your therapy sessions more productive requires a bit of effort, but getting moving again is often just a matter of time.
"As someone who is both a therapist and has been in therapy before, I find that feeling 'stuck' is not always a bad thing," therapist Meredith Futernick, L.M.H.C., tells Bustle. "A lot of times we tend to think of the experience of silence as awkward; however, what comes up for us when we are quiet can be very insightful and relevant." Feeling like you have to "win" at therapy can also be a problem for perfectionists (guilty), so slowing down occasionally, or even going backwards for a while, can have benefits.
Here are tips on how to cope with that stuck feeling and make your therapy sessions more productive, from six people who've been there.
"When I feel stuck in sessions, I will say one of the following things: 'How can I work through this dilemma in reverse?' Hitting a roadblock in your mental and personal development sucks. But asking my mental health professional to help me think about the problem in reverse often frees me up to find a solution and get unstuck.
"I'll also ask, 'Have you ever seen or heard of this before?' My therapist specializes in helping people with anxiety. When I am stuck in that area, I will ask her if she has ever heard of the problem I am currently dealing with. Knowing that other people were stuck in the same area and have successfully beat the odds gives me hope that I can do the same thing. This question alone has helped me get unstuck many times!"
Bri, In Her 40s
"When I have been stuck in therapy, it's usually because some things are happening internally but I am struggling to express them, or so much emotion is coming up that I am a bit overwhelmed as to how to express it.
"I do a few different things: I am honest. I say that I am trying to figure out what I am feeling or thinking, and just need a minute. I ask for help, stating that I need some direction or support, and request that the therapist ask me questions.
"I also distract. This is the response I like the least, but it's honest. If I don't want to speak or just have too much emotion, sometimes I use a distraction technique: asking the therapist a question, such as 'What are you thinking?' It gives me a little bit of time to breath and recover, so I can re-engage with the session."
"I do notice the tendency to keep talking even when a moment of silence might be appropriate. There have been other times when I will actually say, 'I’m feeling stuck'. That opens for an opportunity to explore that further and see what “stuck” really means and how we can work through it.
"As a therapist, when a client is feeling stuck I like to get creative. Music, movement, and meditation are all ways I have found to be successful at getting clients unstuck."
"My therapist will ask me, 'How does that make you feel,' or similar wording. Sometimes I don't know, so she will ask, 'Where do you feel it in your body?'. Usually that helps, and I can figure out how it makes me feel. She also asks, 'What can you do to challenge yourself in this area?', and 'What can you say no to?'. It all depends on the situation."
Renee, Early 40s
"As a therapist in her own therapy, I remind myself that feeling stuck is part of the process in therapy and, sometimes, indicates that something really important is bubbling up that I haven't felt, seen, or recognized before.
"Sometimes I will say at my next therapy session that I feel stuck. I will often start with where I feel stuck in my body. If I feel comfortable enough and the therapist is holding a safe, supportive space for me, I will stay with that feeling and begin to express what I am experiencing.
"Sometimes my best sessions are ones where I didn't have an agenda and felt I had nothing to say. Sometimes dropping into what is happening right here and now has been the most impactful and helpful for me in my own personal therapy and helped me in moments where I felt stuck or stagnant."
"While it can seem obvious, the first thing to say to your therapist is that you’re feeling stuck. They’ll be able to help you break down what parts of your current routine, lifestyle, and emotional makeup could be contributing to a feeling of stasis.
"Ask for your therapist to give you some homework, or assign yourself the task of journaling whenever the feeling of stuckness comes up. What’s going on at that moment? Has anything specific brought the feeling up?
"These questions and personal assignments can help your brain stay flexible and loose if you feel it locking up. The most important thing is not to give up, take each day as it comes, and know that what you’re feeling isn’t going to last forever, and you have a lot of variables you can shift."
Sometimes the sensation of being stuck can feel as if it's going to last forever. But with a bit of openness, you can move past it — and finally get your wheels going again.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.