Why the Psychological Techniques May Not Be Working for You?

You may find it frustrating when you do something that is recommended or are told that it will help you and it doesn’t work for you. There are things that therapists sometimes do that can play into this. As well as barriers that may be within you that interfere with the techniques being ineffective. So how can you make some of these techniques more likely to work for you?

Techniques not working

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Mistakes that Therapists May Make

Failure to present the techniques as something that may help you

There are few techniques that work for everyone which is why it is important for therapists to present techniques as something that may work for you rather than a statement that creates the expectation of the technique helping if you engage in it. This can reduce the pressure if you are having difficulties with it. It can also prevent you from feeling like there is something wrong with you because it doesn’t seem to be helpful.

Fail to give clients sufficient psychoeducation

It is important for you to know why a certain technique may be helpful and what the purpose of it is. By understanding the purpose, you may be able to problem solve it yourself. Often as therapists have used a technique over and over again, they may drop portions of the instruction that don’t seem as important anymore but are actually really important for you if you’re learning the technique for the first time.

For example, an important part of mindfulness is the observational status of just letting thoughts come in, observing them, and letting them leave. There is a calmness to this status. If someone doesn’t do mindfulness with the relaxed observational status, they may not get the benefit expected.

It is also important for you to receive certain psychoeducation about your condition or your experiences to help you understand why a certain technique is likely to help you. For example, mindfulness can be beneficial for helping to lessen the amounts of fear a person with chronic pain or trauma is experiencing. Therefore, psychoeducation about the role of fear in those conditions is also important.

Implementation Instructions are Faulty

It is important for you to understand how to do the technique properly, when to do it, and how often to do it.

First, you need to be comfortable doing the technique on your own. If the instructions are simple it may be enough to practice it in a therapy session. But many times, it is easy to forget some of the instructions so a handout with the instructions can be helpful.

Second, you need to know when to do it and when to do something else. You should not introduce a new non-crisis skill when you’re in a lot of pain, feeling extreme emotions or dealing with a trauma trigger. Those are times for crisis and self-soothe skills. Deep breathing that has been established in calmer situations may be effective in crisis situations later on but not until it has been established as a skill that bring calm.

Finally, you need to know how often to do it and when not to do it. It is important to practice the skills of retraining the brain so that retraining can actually happen. Usually, this means practicing them daily, several times a week, or several times a day. Most skills should avoided when the threat level in your body is high. The threat level needs to be brought down before using these skills. You can bring down the threat level with crisis skills and grounding techniques.

Lack of preparedness for techniques not working and problem solving solutions

I have heard stories of therapists not knowing what to do if a technique doesn’t work for a client. This can be very frustrating for you and if you’re prone to self-blame you may blame yourself. So it is important that therapist approaches the situation in a way that will lessen the chance of you blaming yourself.

First, a therapist can acknowledge that not all techniques work for everyone so let’s find something that works for you.

Second, a therapist can work through a problem-solving lens to figure out what went wrong and what barriers may be interfering with the effectiveness of the technique.

Both these approaches can reduce the blame that you may feel and engages you in way that tells you that they are working with you and want to help you figure it out.

Techniques not working

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Barriers on the Client’s Side

Perceived Threat Level is Too High

Except for crisis skills, psychological skills should be practiced when the threat level is moderate or low. When practicing these skills when the threat level is high, they are likely to be ineffective. It can create more problems because your brain has more examples of times were the technique wasn’t successful and therefore can interfere with retraining your brain away from threat. It can also interfere with the long-term success of the technique.

Perceived threats can come from outside of your body, such as busyness, noise levels, and unpredictable environments. But they also can come from inside your body in the form of fear, excessive worries, mental pressure, and high pain levels.

Psychological techniques tend to be process techniques that bring benefit through practice. These psychological techniques are not one-off techniques. In fact, they are process techniques that work through practice and retraining the brain to operate differently.

If the threat level is too high, you can use crisis skills or self-soothing techniques to bring yourself to a state where the threat level is lower. At that point, you can engage in the psychological techniques meant to retrain your brain or bring you other benefits.

Too Much Intensity or Pressure

Sometimes it’s not about the technique itself, but how you are approach the technique. When you do techniques with too much intensity or pressure, you can bring a level of threat to the technique. This level of threat can prevent you for receiving the benefits that the technique could bring you.

Types of inner pressure and intensity that can interfere these techniques include:

  • Needing to do it right
  • Watching to see if it changes your pain or another symptom
  • Wanting to do it best
  • Trying to not make mistakes
  • Desperation for the technique to work

Previous Training or Conditioning

I remember the first time a therapist recommended that I do deep breathing regularly to reduce my pain. I actually experienced an increase in pain. Afterwards, I realized that I had done deep breathing so often when my pain was really severe that my brain was conditioned to think she’s doing deep breathing, the pain must be bad. I was getting pain when doing deep breathing because my brain associated deep breathing with pain. Deep breathing was not going to reduce my pain until I changed association between deep breathing and pain.

You can literally create an association between anything and pain if your brain gets used to the pain happening while you are doing the activity or you get introduced to something during a stressful or traumatic experience. This doesn’t just happen with pain, it can also happen with other challenging symptoms, sensations, or emotions. There are ways to change previous training or conditioning that have created associations between your symptoms and deferent activities.

How to Do them More Effectively

If you are interested in a technique but it isn’t working you may want to try to figure out the possible reasons for it. Once you figure out the possible reason you may be able to figure out what changes need to be made to make the techniques work for you.

Intensity or Pressure

If you find yourself bringing more intensity or pressure, you may need to figure out what is behind that intensity or pressure. Sometimes even once you understand what’s causing you to bring that intensity and pressure all the time, can help you to release it. Trauma could be interfering your with ability to relax because there’s a part of you that is still protecting itself or feels it needs to be on guard.

Lack of Instruction

If you feel that a technique may not be working because of lack of instruction. Here are some suggestions of what you can do:

  • If you are in therapy, ask your therapist for more instruction or help with problem solving.
  • Research the technique on the internet from people who are experts in that technique (for example, if interested in mindfulness you may want to read stuff by Jon Kabat-Zinn or Tara Brach)
  • Read a highly rated book on the technique or collection of techniques. Often these books do a good job of explaining why the techniques work and how to make them work for you.

Adjustments or Accommodation Needed

If you find yourself reacting to a part of a technique, you may be able to adjust it so that it works for you. For example, if you are in an extending depression episode and the technique asks you to come up with a pleasant experience from a past few days and you have trouble coming up with one. You can extend the timeframe so that you can find a pleasant experience whether it becomes a few months or a few years. It is about making the technique work for you. It doesn’t matter if it is done exactly like the way it was presented as long as it works for you and stays with the purpose of the technique.

Remember, just because you are not having success with a technique doesn’t meet it can’t be an effective tool for you. There are various things that may be getting in your way. You have the ability to overcome them, though sometimes you may need a little help. Life can get better.

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Published by Leona Westra

A Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) based in Surrey, BC with specialized training in Chronic Pain, Trauma, Nervous System Dysregulation, and Grief.

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