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Why you should always retry therapy if it doesn’t work the first time around

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Lauren Geall
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Therapy illustration

New research has proven that, even when therapy fails to help patients on the first try, it can still be an effective form of treatment the second time around.

Finding a therapist and type of therapy that perfectly suits you the first time around is always going to be hard.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s certainly possible. But whether you’re looking for someone who’s a CBT expert or prefer to go down the counselling route, finding a person who encompasses all the values, skills and personality traits you have in mind – and pairing that with a form of therapy that suits you and your mental health – is often a difficult task. In fact, 30-40% of people do not recover after a first-line mental health treatment, according to Psychology Today.

What these statistics do not mean is that people who don’t find their first treatment effective will never find something that works for them – in fact, according to a new study published in Clinical Psychology Review, psychotherapy remains an effective tool for “non-responders” (aka people who didn’t respond to their first form of treatment).

The research, conducted by a team of psychologists at the University of Basel in Switzerland, reviewed 18 psychotherapy control trials with 1,734 non-responders. What they concluded was simple: therapy is usually very successful in treating those who don’t benefit from a previous psychological treatment. 

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This research is particularly important because many people find themselves giving up on therapy if it doesn’t work the first time, often believing that therapy either “isn’t right for them” or simply “doesn’t work”. But this new study proves a simple but powerful fact: not all mental health treatments benefit everyone, and just because one therapist doesn’t suit you doesn’t mean someone else won’t.

“Although it can be difficult to seek therapy after you have tried to get help for anxiety or depression and it didn’t work, remember that ‘no size fits all’ when it comes to dealing with psychological problems,” Jelena Kecmanovic writes for Psychology Today. “There are numerous reasons why medication, therapy or both don’t help a particular person at a particular time.”

A therapy session
Not all psychological treatments suit everyone, so it’s important to keep searching for the treatment that works for you.

It’s also important to remember that the number of talking therapies available are there for a reason: because every person’s needs and experience is different. While cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is effective in treating mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD, counselling can help people with chronic pain and addiction. You can check out the NHS’ guide on talking therapies for more information.

If you want to begin therapy, but don’t know where to start, there are plenty of online resources available for you to use. The mental health charity Mind has a great guide to finding a therapist (including what to do if the NHS waiting lists are long), or you can use the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s (BACP) directory to find an accredited counsellor or psychotherapist. 

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Of course, the first step when it comes to dealing with your mental health should be a visit to your GP, who can advise you on all the treatments available and help you to make a plan going forward. They may also offer you alternative treatments such as medication and social prescriptions.

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Lauren Geall

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