Safety: Feeling Stuck in Therapy?

By Sam Bearer, LPC

Personal counseling can be one of the most validating and freeing experiences that we can give to ourselves. However, at some point you may feel that your growth has stalled or that you are stuck in therapy. Though taking a break from therapy or changing therapists is an option, I’d like to share some thoughts that might open new things to try in addition to or before taking either of these steps. Some of these things may look different based on your individual needs and story, but they all can help to increase the overarching benefits of therapy and promote more personal growth.

First, establish greater safety for slowing down in therapy. We are a society constantly on the move. We are often physically traveling from one place to another including work, home, school, and other activities. We are constantly bombarded through advertising and social media to be on the move in our minds, shifting our focus from one thing to another. Sometimes the exposure is so brief we don’t really have time to accurately assess its impact before something else replaces it.

Therapy is meant to encourage us to slow down. Try establishing greater levels of safety in therapy by simply talking about this stuck feeling with your therapist. Growth typically happens at a slow, sustainable pace, especially when compared to the frenetic world outside of therapy. Shifting your expectations and/or talking about them will likely increase feelings of safety and open new areas of self-awareness. If you can do this, you are already experiencing new growth!

The second step is exploring and working on new areas of self-awareness. Discovering these previously unattended areas and learning to view them safely will be key in promoting and sustaining new growth. The deliberately slow pace of therapy is necessary here. Try re-framing this slowness as being careful with your vulnerable places, rather than a problem. This may help you see the stuck feelings as areas that need a greater degree of safety, attention, and ironically, slow care.

This deliberate, consistently safe dynamic makes greater self-care and self-knowledge possible. Self-knowledge, as distinct from self-awareness, is the ability to identify and (where possible) understand the context or circumstances that provoke unwanted patterns of behavior and overwhelming emotional responses. The point is not to be self-predictive and restrictive but rather to encourage self-empathy and agency. The ultimate goal of therapy is to become better able to choose how to interact with the external circumstances and relationships or internal emotions that likely brought you to therapy or were uncovered through the process of therapy. Safety, self-awareness, and empathetic self-knowledge are all necessary steps in order to achieve sustainable growth and change over time.

If you feel stuck with your therapy or like personal growth has stalled, I would encourage you to try to let your current therapist know that you feel stuck; if possible, you should tell your therapist when this feeling comes up most in sessions. It can be the source of new avenues of inquiry, self-awareness, and safety, all of which make growth possible. It is hard work, but if you really can fully be safe with your therapist, you may find great potential for growth.


Photo by Finn at Unsplash.