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Disappointed with therapist?

Dear Alice...

All year I have been wondering about my stress level and what I perceive as unusually heavy mood swings. I'm sure I'm not the only first-year on campus who has noticed new changes in her or his psyche as of "the first year at college." I had a hard time doing it, but I finally decided to see a therapist about my psychological condition, the development of which continues to this moment. I am experiencing some amount of sexual frustration, and I have managed to find my way into plenty of stressful situations all year.

Alice, I'm disappointed. My "health services" therapist is not listening to me (i.e. remembering things that we have discussed in past sessions), and I am feeling only worse. I feel lost. I'm an actor, and I have been in theatre since seventh grade. My mind is always in the theatre, and I feel as though my acting pervades my life. I have lost myself in a sea of specifically self-engineered "parts" which I "play" in differing situations which call out for differing personae. I feel as though hardly anyone really knows me, and I feel like an idiot for identifying with this pseudo-artistic complaint.

I want to make films, but first I have some major issues to work out, and health services is not helping me. I feel intimidated by my therapist, and I feel unable to change therapists within the university system. I want a therapist that I feel will see through the guise that I think I put up automatically. I'm sorry to be cliché, but I need some help finding myself. Meanwhile, my stress level and periodic depression is keeping me from being alert in class (I'm perpetually tired) and pulling me behind in my studies. I have lost the will to work, and I want to find it again. Sorry that it's so long.

Signed, Loose ends

Dear Loose ends,

It’s great that you’ve been seeking out help as you navigate the transition to college. Reflecting on your experience working with a therapist is an excellent, and even recommended, strategy to ensure you’re getting the most out of this relationship. It can certainly be frustrating when a therapist forgets your concerns or doesn’t seem to listen. You might try to talk with them about your concerns, but you may also consider finding someone new. Working with a mental health professional who understands and connects with you doesn’t always happen on the first try. By reflecting on your past experiences, setting expectations for future counseling, and learning more about how to find a good therapist, hopefully you will find someone who can better support your needs.

Feeling connected with your mental health professional is key. To help you assess whether they’re a good fit, you might want to take time to learn about their areas of expertise and how they approach their practice. If you’re considering whether to call it quits with your current therapist, it may be helpful to reflect on why you feel that way. That might offer insight into what to look for and potential red flags when searching for another one. Other questions you might ask yourself include: do you feel some relief or hope during a single therapy session? How well do they listen and do they respond reflectively and intuitively? Do they offer to set goals with you and evaluate your progress? It’s also worth noting that it may take several sessions to experience overall improvement. Ultimately, you know yourself the best and if your sessions aren’t going the way you’d like, it’s perfectly okay to discuss any disappointments, frustrations, and adjustments you’d like to make directly with your mental health professional. By sharing this information, it may help them tailor the sessions to meet your needs. This conversation may also be an opportunity to let them know that you have a tendency to put up disguises. That way you can be straightforward, but it also allows them to better understand your situation.

If you do choose to switch mental health professionals, you might start by looking at any staff biographies your school has available. Even though you aren’t clicking with your current therapist, it doesn’t mean you won’t find someone else in the school counseling center. If you’d like to provide feedback on your current therapist, you may consider contacting the director of your school’s counseling center, a school dean, or an administrative office — it’s up to you to choose which feels the most comfortable and appropriate for your experience. You could also seek out a provider outside of the counseling service, and if you choose to do so, your school might be able to provide a referral. Loose ends, since you mentioned that you’re an actor, organizations such as The Actor’s Fund may be of interest — they offer mental health services and support for people in the entertainment industry like yourself. If cost is a barrier to seeking a different mental health professional who’s a better fit, you can check out the Go Ask Alice! Q&A Finding low-cost counseling.

As you mentioned, it’s not uncommon for first-year students to feel isolated and stressed. It’ll take time to make friends and establish a support network. It’s also helpful to keep in mind that your first-year experience doesn’t have to influence the rest of your college experience. To help keep your stress in check, you may find the question Stress, anxiety, and learning to cope to be helpful.

You also shared that you’re feeling a bit sexually frustrated. Is this a topic you've discussed with your therapist? There are a number of reasons you could be experiencing this. Are you taking any medications that could have sexual side effects? Have you been having trouble with dating recently? Have you identified other parts of your life that contribute to this sexual frustration? While going it solo with an option such as masturbation may be helpful, speaking with your mental health professional may also be useful in getting to the crux of your concerns. 

Millions of people seek therapy to better understand their own thoughts, goals, and behaviors so that they may make informed decisions about their lives. It takes time to establish a supportive and productive relationship with a mental health professional, and it may not happen with the first one you meet. If you decide to look for another therapist, know that doing so is okay and generally encouraged amongst mental health professionals. In any case, taking the time to find one with whom you feel comfortable is essential for productive therapy sessions, and you deserve it.

Take care,

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Last updated Feb 26, 2021
Originally published Apr 01, 1994

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