The Illusion of Control in Therapy: a Bad Reason to End it

This idea refers to falsely believing that we already have control over situations that we cannot control in a short time or even ever.
The Illusion of Control in Therapy: a Bad Reason to End it

Last update: 13 December, 2023

There are moments in our life when we ask ourselves if it might be a good idea to go to a psychologist. We have doubts and fears, and we ask for advice from people around us. Maybe we even look for alternative medicines and pseudoscientific therapies for peace of mind. We go to specialists searching for an exit. Sometimes, our emotional well-being can become so deep that we start to think that we have lost all light and hope. We have the illusion of control, but are we really in control?

“I know I haven’t always done things the right way. I’m just trying to reflect on how to make myself better, how to become a better man, a better father, a better person, a better artist”.
-Nayvadius Cash-

Once we have talked about our objectives with a therapist, we start with energy and intention. The mountain that seemed too tall begins to seem approachable. We feel we are getting better and we even tell ourselves we are progressing, and we believe it more and more … Now, the phrases “I can do it”, “nothing bad has happened yet”, “good times come with the bad” bounce around our head… When is it time to stop therapy?

The illusion of control

The illusion of control is something known among psychologists, and people are aware of it even though they may not have said it in words. We develop ways of fooling ourselves, among other reasoning and thinking tools.

Control is one of the best known ideas. This is the feeling of dominating or controlling things that do not really depend on us. A clear example of this is a gambler. They believe they use strategies for uncontrollable games (such as roulette).

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”.
-Albert Einstein-

woman thinking

During therapy, and especially with certain illnesses, the idea of control is risky. In therapy sessions, this illusion is one of the problems that can come up. It is logical that when we are liberated from our bonds and chains of negative thoughts, we start to doubt whether we need help anymore.

Thinking, “Now I’m better” is something positive, but we have to compare this to reality and never lose perspective. It is one of the objectives that therapists should work on during therapy. Of all the possible reasons why a person can leave therapy, the illusion of control is one of the most harmful because of the consequences unprepared relapses have.

The importance of follow-up in therapy

When we start to achieve results in therapy, we follow the next steps, and even put forward our own goals and make decisions about how we feel. This is something very positive.

However, stopping harmful thoughts and bad habits does not mean that we are “controlling” them. This is when we need to pay attention during therapy and not abandon what has made us better. If we have solved the initial problem, it is best to design a prevention plan that allows us to keep up the results of the therapy. Otherwise we may not fully develop strategies for getting or staying better.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love”.
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky-


What happens if we have a relative or someone close to us who is at this point? It’s ideal to reinforce the maintenance of new habits and strategies that helped them get there. Monitor self-deception. The therapist will gradually schedule bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly and semi-annual sessions before a final discharge.

The process of “monitoring” and supervision will begin. It could be that I start doubting that I am well, or that my loved one does. It’s risky if we just say “I’m fine” when we need to confront that illusion of control, and take a close look at the path traveled and not the goal achieved. Remember that the goal is a consequence of the small steps taken along the way.

“Success is not achieved only with special qualities. It is above all a work of constancy, method and organization”.
-J.P. Sergent-

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.