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Feeling stuck in therapy can be a normal part of the therapeutic process. This can occur to folks who have been in therapy for years or folks who are new to therapy. 

Even though it is a normal part of therapy, feeling stuck can have underlying meanings with severe implications for treatment.

Reasons & Implications of Feeling Stuck

People might find themselves stuck for a number of different reasons, including: 

  • Uncertainty about what to discuss 
  • Reaching plateau 
  • Resistance or ambivalence 
  • Discomfort with emotions or certain topics 
  • Burnout 
  • Client-clinician fit 

When feeling stuck does not get addressed, the therapeutic alliance can be harmed, and therapy can cause more harm than good.

Uncertainty About What To Discuss

If you are finding yourself stuck in therapy because you are not sure what to talk about, keep in mind that therapy is your time, and you can talk about anything. Here are some topics you can consider bringing up with your therapist: 

  • Self-care, coping, and symptom management 
  • Self-esteem, self-worth, and self-love 
  • Setting and maintaining personal boundaries Past, present, and future relationships 
  • Attachment, anxiety, or grief 
  • Trauma, abuse, or neglect 
  • Personal goals or aspirations 
  • Health concerns, pain, fatigue, and nutrition 
  • S-x and s-xuality Culture, race, and identity 
  • Stress, work/career, focus, and burnout.

Reaching Plateau

Sometimes, we feel stuck because we’ve reached a plateau. This can happen when the goals we originally set have been reached, and we do not have anything new to work through. It can also mean that they have stopped making progress. 

Plateauing may be indicative of a need to reevaluate treatment goals, explore new therapeutic techniques, seek a new clinician, take a break, or plan for discharge. Discharge can be difficult (especially if you have worked with someone for a while), but keep in mind that… 

  • You have accomplished a lot 
  • You can always return 
  • You can rebuild a new trusting relationship with someone else.

Resistance & Ambivalence

Resistance refers to things we might do to hinder or derail the therapeutic process. Examples of resistance include showing up late or ending early, refusing to open up (or talk more), being distracted, and becoming argumentative or confrontational with your therapist. 

Resistance is often due to ambivalence around therapy. This can include not being sure if therapy is right for you or not feeling confident that things will change. 

Oftentimes, a therapist may bring up the presence of resistance. However, it can also be useful for you to share your feelings with them so you can discuss potential interventions or treatment options, including discharge.

Burnout

We may understand burnout as the outcome of dealing with high stress levels for an extended period. However, we can also experience a form of burnout from therapy. Opening up to a person each week can have an emotional toll on us, this is often known as an “emotional hangover.” When we are constantly experiencing this type of emotional labor (especially if we aren’t used to it), we can become burned out. If you are feeling like this, try talking through some options with your therapist: 

  • Change topics in a structured routine (e.g., alternate between stressful and less stressful topics) 
  • Inquire about less frequent sessions 
  • Consider taking a break from therapy.

Client-Clinician Fit

There is a right therapist for everyone, but not every therapist is the right fit for us. Sometimes, the fit with our therapist is not the best for us. This can be due to various reasons like style, approach, personality, or transference. 

If you are feeling like your therapist is not the right fit for you, try bringing it up to them. Though it might feel scary, therapists are skilled in difficult conversations and often welcome feedback. If things do not get better after that, then perhaps it may be useful to seek a different therapist. Your current therapist may be able to help you in your search by providing both internal and external referrals.

Take-Aways

Feeling stuck is normal, but it may need close attention or intervention when it is a recurring theme in therapy. 

If you are feeling stuck in therapy, take some time to reflect on why you might feel stuck, then bring it up to your therapist. It is helpful feedback and information for them to receive so they can work with you to identify potential solutions or options for moving forward. 

Remember, therapy is your time, so it is most important that you feel that you’re getting use from it!



While our physical offices are located in South Loop and Lakeview neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois for in-person sessions, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more.  

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.


While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.