- Jed Murphree, LPC
False starts are okay - 3 reasons why they occur.
False starts happen all the time in our modern world. Whether young, middle aged, or older - we all will have partially or half finished projects, thinking we can do more than we actually can, jumping the gun, eyes bigger than the stomach, starting something only to stop part way through; we all do it.
Whether at work, in relationships, diets, exercise routines; all the stuff we swear off, only to return to a little later on, along with those tasks that we never seem to finish - damnit, another false start - they happen.
False starts with therapy are no exception, and that's really okay. As a matter of fact, I expect it. What I mean is that some folks (and sometimes couples) come in for a session or two and then disappear. They make those first overtures, dip their toes into the water, and then - poof - they're gone.
After a while, some of those same folks make contact again, and we pick up where we left off as best as possible. The process begins anew, and that's therapy. False starts are simply part of the process.
So, having observed this many times over, here are three reasons that make sense to me as to why folks start and then stop.
1. Wrong fit.
Finding the therapist that is a "best right fit" is a very individual process. It takes as long as it takes. There are multiple studies conducted on what positively influences therapeutic outcomes, and the quality of the therapeutic relationship makes a huge difference in the success of therapy.
I certainly understand that I am not the therapist for all people. My style, my way of communicating, the issues I'm best suited to help won't match up with everyone that comes into my office. That's really how it should be.
So building that "alliance" is the key. Knowing who you will work with best can be a process of trail and error. Many are not willing to go through that for good reason - it means telling parts of your story over and over again in effort to find your own "best right fit".
2. Not quite ready.
What your therapy is for, along with the amount of willingness to make a change are two of the big factors that can also account for a good many false starts. Either because of the amount or difficulty of the work ahead, the challenge of opening up and talking about yourself, or maybe just not even understanding that there's a problem to begin with, contributes as well.
The stigma which is still attached to psychotherapy certainly doesn't help, either. We live in a culture with a lot of messages about "suck it up, push through, and shrug it off". Along with all that you've learned growing up, being vulnerable, which is a part of therapy, turns a lot of people off. Hell, just the idea of needing or wanting help can carry with it a strong sense of being weak, needy, or broken.
Stigma is hard to work around. Despite that, therapy is meant to help you build yourself back up, create something new, and squaring up with your past. Talking about that is okay, having a conversation about that is okay; it's the learning not to dwell in the past, along with making decisions for a better future that is the central focus of most therapy. It often takes time, and is not a "one size fits all" situation.
3. Cost and convenience.
For those that lack insurance, or the funds to pay, therapy looks a lot like a luxury that is just not affordable. Even for those that have insurance, dealing with preauthorizations, which means going through a regular doctor for a referral just to get in the door, and then having to be diagnosed, along with the very real possibility of a limited number of sessions to address the issue or problems doesn't necessarily help, either.
Just locating a therapist, particularly in rural areas, can be just as big a problem as the need for services. When you add transportation costs on top of the process of finding someone, the motivation to get help can easily wane and cause a person to give up altogether.
What's the solution?
The short answer is not to give up and keep on searching.
Specifically to the three issues I've discussed, for the wrong fit consider things like the gender of the therapist and who you will likely work with best, along with what skills might be needed to help you deal, manage, and realign your life. Knowing what needs to be addressed and what areas of your life need attention can help you search out that right counselor.
For those that are not quite ready, know that therapy is meant be a safe place to unload (and in some ways store) all that personal, scary, dangerous, impractical, messy, stuff that we carry around with us that is burdensome, damaging, and unhealthy. We all deserve to think and feel good about ourselves regardless of our histories. Making that happen means taking risks. That too is part of the process of healing and learning
As for the issues of cost and convenience, there are options out there. Some therapists have sliding fee scales or offer group therapy as a cost saving measure. Online services like Open Path help connect clients with qualified clinicians for reduced fees. Use of technology and therapy apps like TalkSpace and BetterHelp have set the stage for innovative ways to use phone calls and texting as a means to help.
What is important is that options exist and help can be found. So don't give up, take the false starts in stride and see them as a part of a process
Just remember, mental health matters.