It is certainly difficult to come to terms with treating a patient who seemingly may not be benefiting from therapy. It is also quite easy to view that as a failure on the part of the therapist. However, it is important to remember that patients come to the office with years of trauma. And the expectation on behalf of a therapist to lift the burden of that trauma in a short amount of time is a recipe for failure.

The truth is, as therapists we are not responsible for making every patient better. We are responsible for trying. The goal of therapy is to alleviate suffering which can take a tremendous amount of time, sometimes years before the benefits of therapy can be seen.

We have a responsibility to walk with our patients through their journey of suffering, and try to help where we can. But bearing the responsibility of “fixing” every patient’s problems sets the therapist up for failure and increases likelihood of burnout. This also sets the precedent that the therapist has all the answers, which is far from the truth.

The therapist provides an objective lens through which to see the patient and their struggles. To think that we have any power over the situation, or are somehow in a position to single-handedly and directly change patient outcomes is shortsighted.

At times this is difficult as we do grow quite close to our patients over time. We learn about them, care about them, and want the best for them. However, as therapists we are not in a position to judge what that should look like, or pull strings to make it so.

Therapy is about the patient, not the therapist. At the end of the day the patient, and only the patient is able to decide what they want out of therapy, what they get out of it, and what to do with the insight they gather.

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