Who’s Responsible for Success in Therapy?

Everyone carries assumptions about what they will get out of coming to therapy. Some clients are having such a hard time in their life that just signing up for that first session, getting out of the house, driving to the office and plopping down on the coach feels like an achievement in itself. And a relief. “Finally, someone is here to solve my problems!” But then what? How does therapy actually help people, and who is responsible for success in therapy – the client or the therapist?

The answer, of course, is both. It is the therapist’s job to provide a safe, consistent setting for their clients and to offer genuine interest, empathy and warmth. The vast majority of what makes therapy successful or not, however, depends on the client and their willingness to do the often difficult and painful work of therapy. This means the client must come on time and consistently to sessions, often for many weeks and months, even when they don’t always feel like it. It means they must learn to push into the discomfort and awkwardness of identifying, expressing and sitting with challenging thoughts, emotions and truths about their life. And most importantly, it means taking action and putting into practice their new mindsets and behaviors out in their life. 

As Walt Whitman famously wrote, “Not I, not anyone else, can travel that road for you. You must travel it for yourself.” Therapy is the client’s work to do and the client’s road to travel. The therapist does not have the power to improve or change the client’s life, but they can be there to guide, encourage and support the client each step of the way. While ultimately Walt Whitman is correct that the client must travel that road for themselves, the gift of therapy is that they won’t have to do it alone. They’ll have their therapist by their side as a fellow traveler – a trusted companion to witness and share their many struggles, dark moments and setbacks, but also their many victories, achievements and triumphs. And it’s that kind of supportive relationship that leads to the client achieving success in therapy.

Written by: Timothy Jordan, LPC