Therapists – how to cope with failure

Most therapists go into the job because they want to help people. And it can be hard when you don’t. 

It can knock your confidence, or make you doubt yourself, especially if you are in the early years of your career.

Although a few hardy souls do claim a 100% success rate, most therapists admit that, despite their best efforts, some client don’t improve as planned. We recently discussed (HERE) what might be contributing to a lack of progress and some ideas for getting things going again. However, sometimes nothing you can think of works, and you have to bring the therapy to a close without the success you had hoped to gain.

So how should you deal with therapy failures?

  • Be honest with the client and consider other ways to help them – can you offer a referral, or suggest another approach to the problem that might work better for them?
  • Be honest with yourself about how this is affecting you. Supervision is a good place to bring your feelings into the open and start to deal with them. Even some professional Facebook groups can be a good place to find support, but be careful to protect your client’s confidentiality when posting. Stick to talking about your own feelings in any public forum.
  • Don’t redirect your feelings onto other clients, or your family.
  • Listen to inspirational or motivational podcasts or read articles, books and blogs by others who have failed and gone on to success.
  • Use other coping strategies you would give to a client who worried about failing.
  • Give yourself a break. Just as one swallow doesn’t make a summer, recognise that one failure doesn’t make you a bad therapist. If you did your best, nothing more could have been asked of you.
  • If you have a series of failures, look at them in the context of your whole practice. What do these failed clients have in common? Is this an indication that you need more training in a particular area, or in dealing with a specific issue? Is transference an issue?
  • Reframe the experience. Have you learned something that will help you to be successful working with other clients?
  • Remind yourself you are not alone. Everyone fails at something. Like these ‘famous failures’*

    - Abraham Lincoln - failed in business at age 21; was defeated in a legislative race at age 22; failed again in business at 24; overcome the death of his fiancée at 26; had a nervous breakdown at 27; lost a congressional race at 34; lost a senatorial race at age 45; failed to become Vice President at age 47; lost a senatorial race at 49; and was elected as the President of the United States at the age of 52 

    - Michael Jordan – ‘I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’


Author: is an experienced hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy trainer. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbook, both of which are available from Amazon.
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