Therapy: When it doesn’t work for you

-Megan Stokell

I’ll be the first to admit that therapy won’t work for everyone. At least not all the time. There are many reasons for this. And there are many reasons why one unsuccessful cycle of treatment shouldn’t make you dismiss talking therapy forever.


When I first entered treatment, I was struggling with anorexia. They wouldn’t let me have therapy because they believed it would be a waste of time to try and help me while I didn’t have the energy to allow proper cognitive function. This made me want to give up on therapy, before I even started receiving it. I was really mentally struggling with the process of returning to a healthy weight, but I was given no guidance on how I was expected to cope with this.

When I regained the weight, they let me start receiving talking therapy; getting to the root of what made me feel like losing weight would be the only way of controlling my life. I was full of hope again, ready to ‘fix’ my brain. But I really didn’t get on my therapist: she was patronising and cooed at everything, like a pigeon. She would explain to me, a 15 year old with above average IQ, that ‘not eating really just isn’t very good for your health’. I felt patronised and resentful as a result, which meant that I simply couldn’t bring myself to speak openly about what I was experiencing. I was scared that if I acknowledged it wasn’t helping, I would be left with no support whatsoever. I went along every week, seeing it the lesser of two evils.

When I finally got up the courage to tell my ever-hopeful mother that counselling really wasn’t doing much for me, I got a new therapist and started receiving CBT. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a great treatment, and works wonders for many many patients. However, it is based on a system of rationally disputing maladaptive beliefs, and this just wasn’t appropriate to me at the time: I struggled enough with feeling like my emotions were wrong and at this point in time, to admit that my thought processes were irrational was the same as admitting that they were utterly invalid. Because of this, my first attempt at CBT did make me feel worse about myself. I’d go home more depressed than I started out and while I tried at the time to convince myself that this was just part of the process, I can see in hindsight that it was just a bad fit. When my time with this therapist came to an end, I wanted to give up on therapy all over again.


But one good thing came out of my time in CBT: my therapist, lovely and ineffective as she was, referred me to another form of therapy. Although by this point (three years on) I was doubtful of entering yet another form of talking therapy, I decided there was nothing to lose. So I went for it, and I began receiving dialectical behavioural therapy in June 2013. And it turned out to be the best thing that could have possibly happened to me in terms of recovery. This form of therapy was more intensive than the CBT I have previously received, but more significantly it had a strong emphasis on validation of current emotions. It taught me that just because my feelings weren’t rational didn’t mean I was stupid for feeling them. It was what I’d been missing.


After receiving DBT, I went back to receiving elements of CBT and this time around, it worked! I’d developed the powers of self-validation that enabled me to rationally dispute my disordered thoughts without dismissing them or casting judgement on myself for experiencing them.

The point of this blog post is not to say that therapy doesn’t work, or that CBT doesn’t work, or that DBT is the cure-all treatment for mental health difficulties. The point is that just because one therapy, or even one therapist, doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean that none will. Sometimes it takes a few different approaches to find the one that resonates with you, and sometimes you need a combination of a few different ones. Approach every meeting, every potential treatment with an open mind, and throw yourself into it.


Note: You don’t have to wait for professional help to start gaining the skills that will help you- check out the links below!

Learn more about Dialectical Behavioural Therapy here:

Learn more about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy here:


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