Why Therapeutic Tools and Strategies Sometimes Fail

In the spirit of modeling a wellness mindset, I’ve embraced “The enemy of progress is perfection” for these resources. While in an ideal world, I’d only produce evidence-based, academically sourced content, the reality of my life as a parent and professional demands flexibility. Thus, I share insights from my experiences, learnings, and memory. I prioritize accuracy, so if you spot any errors, please let me know.

Disclaimer: The content here is psycho-educational and/or opinion, and not a replacement for personalized psychotherapy. Each person’s mental health needs are unique; consult a qualified professional for personalized support.

Many clients share a common experience: they’ve been given various tools and strategies by therapists or self-help resources, but then struggled to implement them successfully. They couldn’t begin, or they couldn’t keep it up. They didn’t feel like it, or it didn’t quite feel right to them. Sometimes, these tools bring new anxieties or worries, or clients feel too down to see the benefits.

The Challenge of Implementing Tools

There are many reasons why therapeutic tools and strategies don’t always work. From my clinical experience, one key reason is that the tool hasn’t been tailored to the individual. On the surface, the strategy might seem appropriate, but it isn’t truly accessible or personally meaningful. Clients might not be ready for the tool, it doesn’t have quite the right tone or flavor for them, or it could be too it was too hard to keep it up. Effective tools should serve as stepping stones to better experiences, not another path to self-defeat.

Real-World Examples

Consider asking a busy caregiver to dedicate an hour each day to meditation—it’s simply not going to happen! Similarly, expecting regular exercise from a depressed person suffering from chronic pain is likely setting them up for failure. Asking someone prone to panic attacks or anger outbursts to self-regulate in high-stress moments is equally impractical. If you’re reading this post, you can probably relate. While some strategies may work for some people, they won’t work for everyone.

The Nature of Advice

A lot of advice is very good advice. A lot of advice is also not useful for many people. Telling someone to calm down is great advice, but if they don’t know anything about how to achieve calmness, or perceive calmness, it’s a setup for failure.

A Personalized Approach

In my practice, I focus on finding tools and strategies that meet clients where they are. We search for “low-hanging fruit”—easy, accessible entry points also known as growth edges. If a tool doesn’t work or isn’t used, it means it wasn’t the right tool, was too challenging, wasn’t tailored to the client, wasn’t fully understood or meaningful, or wasn’t the right time for that tool.

Therapeutic tools and strategies need to be tailored to the individual to be effective. In my practice, I check in, looking for feedback, especially negative feedback, to re-evaluate and make a new plan. This iterative process ensures that the strategies become truly effective and personally meaningful for each client. By understanding and addressing the unique needs and readiness of each client, we can find practical and meaningful ways to support their growth and well-being.

I come with the perspective that you are the expert on yourself, I am an expert at psychotherapy, and we are both fallible humans. I don’t claim to have all the answers or know better than you. I will share resources, describe concepts and experiences, and contemplate out loud (in writing). The more I learn, the more aware I am of how much I do not know. 

Let's get started

If you would be interested in exploring what therapy has to offer you, I’m here to help. KC Davis wrote, “Imperfection is required for a good life.” So, begin here and now, where you are already at, and I’ll meet you where you are.

Photo of Shira standing outdoors. She is wearing a red dress and blue cardigan.

The Window of Tolerance is a widely used, easily understood metaphor first created by Dr. Dan Siegal, a renowned psychiatrist. It describes the optimal functional human state—a state where we can think our thoughts, feel our feelings, and take considered...

Don’t stop reading after my next statement—it may challenge a strongly held belief, but understanding this concept could significantly benefit your mental health: I believe that most people are misusing the term “stress.” Are you “stressed out”? Are you “stressing”...