Whether you have a serious psychiatric disorder, such as major depression or OCD, or are struggling with a major life issue, such as going through a painful divorce, therapy can be highly effective and very beneficial. It can also be a waste of valuable time and money. So what makes the difference between effective therapy that truly makes a positive difference in your life, and time in a therapist\u2019s office that would have been better spent twirling your hair or throwing your best china against the wall? (Actually, the latter can be a great way to let out some anger, but only if the china was a gift from your cheating ex-husband\u2019s meddling aunt!) Humor aside, it\u2019s important to be aware of potential obstacles if you\u2019re in \u2013 or considering starting \u2013 therapy. Whatever the reason you\u2019re seeing a therapist, you probably want to make the most of it and gain a lot of value from it. And more than anything, the last thing you want is further pain, frustration, or disappointment when life is already enough of a struggle. Being aware of the things that could end up or already are interfering with your progress in therapy could help you adjust course before it\u2019s too late. (By the way, it\u2019s important to note that a skilled, experienced therapist should already be paying attention and noting any of these issues and addressing them along the way. But therapists aren\u2019t perfect, and there\u2019s no reason you shouldn\u2019t have some idea of what problems you may be bringing to the table \u2013 in addition to the one(s) you meant to focus on in therapy.) So, let\u2019s take a brief look at five of the most common obstacles that keep people from making progress or dismissing therapy as the most useless invention since the \u201cnoodle fan\u201d (yes, that\u2019s a real gadget!): Your Attitude Is a Subtle Saboteur Your parents, coach, boss, or teacher probably told you at some point in time that \u201cattitude is everything.\u201d Well, they were right \u2013 and it does apply to therapy. This isn\u2019t so much about having a super positive attitude from the beginning \u2013 after all, this is therapy not a social event! But attitude does matter. If you approach therapy with one of the following attitudes, it\u2019s going to be a problem: \t\u201cI don\u2019t need therapy \u2013 I\u2019m just doing this to get my nagging spouse, mother, boss, drug and alcohol counselor, or other annoying but important person in my life off my back.\u201d \t\u201cTherapists are over-educated idiots, but being the center of attention for an hour each week is nice.\u201d \t\u201cI know myself far better than any therapist ever will!\u201d \t\u00a0\u201cThis is a waste of my time.\u201d (this one almost always becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy) \t\u00a0\u201cIf this therapist suggests I\u2019m the problem, I\u2019m outta here!\u201d \t\u00a0\u201cI\u2019ll just tell my therapist what he wants to hear \u2013 I\u2019m sure not gonna reveal anything deeply personal!\u201d \t\u201cWhy am I here??!!\u201d The general idea with attitude is that if you 1) expect therapy to not work for you, 2) believe it\u2019s a waste of time or that your therapist doesn\u2019t know anything, or 3) treat it casually, your attitude is an obstacle. But, if your therapist confronts you about it early on (which is a sign of a therapist who knows what he or she is doing), there\u2019s a golden opportunity for you to move past it and do the real work. You Have Unrealistic Expectations Unrealistic expectations can quickly sabotage your time in therapy. It\u2019s one of the reasons many people drop out prematurely. If you start therapy with the expectation that after one or two sessions you\u2019ll be \u201ccured\u201d or turn your life completely around, you will be sorely disappointed. Therapy is a process. And, in most cases, it takes a fair amount of time. Granted, some therapeutic approaches are designed to be \u201cbrief,\u201d like solution-focused therapy, but even those have their limitations and don\u2019t lead to miraculous results \u2013 even with the best therapist in the world. Other unrealistic expectations about therapy include the beliefs that: \tIt will be easy and comfortable (it\u2019s often uncomfortable \u2013 like cleaning an infected wound so it can heal) \tYou\u2019ll notice the benefits right away (you may feel worse before you begin to feel better, because addressing painful issues is hard work and may open up some wounds) \tYou\u2019ll feel better after each session (unfortunately, peeling away the layers of an onion can lead to tears\u2026) \tYour therapist knows everything and \/ or can read your mind (therapists aren\u2019t omnipotent) You Spend All Your Time Venting (or not\u2026) Venting can definitely be cathartic \u2013 you know, that feeling of freedom and relief when you finally get something off your chest \u2013 and the other person is actually really listening to you. It feels good. At least for a short while. But if you use every session to vent \u2013 especially if you\u2019re rehashing the same thing over and over and over \u2013 you won\u2019t make any progress. In fact, you\u2019ll just keep yourself stuck in the muck and mire that led you to therapy in the first place. Venting has its place, and it\u2019s often essential from time to time. But there needs to be a balance between venting and working on your issues. On the flip side (the \u201cor not\u201d above), if you approach therapy as if it\u2019s afternoon tea with the Queen, being prim and proper and never letting your true feelings show, you\u2019ll still remain stuck. Because all the hurt, anger, and other painful emotions will just fester and eat away at you. You can vent \u2013 you need to let your guard down, take a risk, and allow yourself to be truly open about how angry, sad, miserable, lonely, insecure, scared, and so on, that you really are. THAT\u2019s the meat your therapist can work with. If you are passive, stoic, or overly guarded, you might as well go home and have tea. Don\u2019t make your therapist pull teeth to elicit a genuine emotion, but don\u2019t spend all your time venting either. You Don\u2019t Trust Your Therapist If you don\u2019t trust your therapist, you\u2019re pretty much dead in the water. Trust is vital to making progress in therapy. Don\u2019t get me wrong \u2013 genuine trust doesn\u2019t (and shouldn\u2019t) happen overnight. It needs to develop naturally and must be earned as well. Often, the first two or three sessions (and sometimes more, in cases of severe abuse or trauma, for example) are really spent on two things from a therapeutic perspective \u2013 gathering information (i.e. what is the real \u201cpresenting problem\u201d and the history behind it) and establishing what therapists call a \u201ctherapeutic rapport.\u201d That rapport is crucial and is based primarily on trust. If you don\u2019t trust your therapist, how will you feel safe enough to talk openly and let your guard down? If you don\u2019t think you can ever truly trust your therapist, then it\u2019s best to either address that in therapy, or find a new therapist. If you find that you can\u2019t trust any therapist, it\u2019s even more important that you find someone \u2013 preferably a seasoned, highly respected therapist \u2013 who can help you work through the trust issues together \u2013 which isn\u2019t going to be easy but will likely have benefits that carry over into many other areas in your life. Sometimes just getting past the trust issue is half the battle. You Dismiss the \u201cLittle\u201d Things as Unhelpful Actually, they\u2019re not really little, but their purpose just isn\u2019t obvious to you. Therapy is a much more involved, complex process that most people realize. Most clients approach it with the idea that they want to work on A, B, and or C. What they may not realize is that many of the benefits of therapy don\u2019t come from solving or fixing A, B, or C \u2013 but rather come from the process itself. Nifty, huh?! The trust issue is a perfect example. Let\u2019s say you went into therapy to deal with a painful divorce. You felt disrespected, betrayed, unloved, and so on by your ex. You want the pain to go away so you can get on with your life and actually enjoy it. That\u2019s your \u201cpresenting problem.\u201d But that issue of trust rears its ugly head, so you end up spending several sessions discussing that. You might be thinking to yourself, I\u2019m not here to address trust issues \u2013 I\u2019m here to find a way to get past the pain of my divorce! But your divorce also stirred up (or may have partially been caused by) some serious trust issues \u2013 and now they\u2019re playing out in therapy. Does that make sense? So, working on the trust issue with your therapist will also help you heal the pain from your divorce. Sure, there are other aspects that need to be addressed as well, but don\u2019t dismiss this one. The process can be invaluable, even though it feels like a temporary (and frustrating) detour. A skilled therapist will use everything that comes up in therapy to help you. It\u2019s a lot like working with a really good athletic coach. You\u2019re a figure skater who wants to master your jumps, so you hire the best coach you can afford. You have your first session and are all warmed up and ready to get out on the ice and start jumping. Your coach has a different idea. He tells you to spend an hour carving perfect figure 8\u2019s. \u201cHuh?\u201d (You think to yourself). \u201cI\u2019m paying a fortune for this guy?? I already know how to do figure 8\u2019s!\u201d What you don\u2019t realize is that your new coach, who\u2019s trained numerous gold medalists, knows that jumping is not the real issue \u2013 it\u2019s a lack of discipline and precision. It\u2019s not obvious to you \u2013 yet \u2013 but in time you\u2019ll reap (and understand) the benefits of your coach\u2019s wisdom and experience. The same is almost always true with therapy. These are just a few of the more common obstacles to therapy. A skilled therapist will recognize obstacles (just about every client has at least one or two) when they appear, and address them as needed \u2013 sometimes subtly, and sometimes directly. If you hang in there and keep doing the work, you\u2019ll likely be surprised at how much progress you can make. There\u2019s an old saying that goes something like, \u201cDon\u2019t get so focused on your destination that you fail to appreciate the journey.\u201d Keep this in mind when you\u2019re in therapy, because the most effective therapy has much less to do with the final destination than the process of getting there.