A study at Kings College London on genetic links to anxiety and depression is breaking new grounds by exploring not just the genetic links with depression but also the social and environmental risk factors, therefore improving an individual’s treatment.
Therapygenetics, the study of genetic predictors of response to psychological therapy, is able to predict treatment response. Looking at the future, it is hoped therapygenetics will deliver a risk index for patients visiting a GP with anxiety or depression, to provide the treatment option that would work best for them, medication or talking therapy, rather than a trial and error approach.
Several studies have provided evidence that individuals respond differently to different psychological interventions and that genetic differences are capable of predicting these different susceptibilities to psychotherapy. What has been found is that your genes put you in a certain place on the spectrum of emotional vulnerability to stress but when taught psychological techniques, it can increase a person’s resilience while reducing vulnerability. Genes cannot be changed but environmental changes can support the management of life’s stressors. Given, that for many people that drugs are the first line of treatment, genetic research offers a way of working out what will and will not work for them.
We are in currently in an epidemic of distress with poverty, social isolation, social inequality, bereavement and loss creating anxiety and depression. We need to offer people the opportunity to be heard and to make sense of their life, while supporting them to find their own answers on how to move forward, developing a stronger resilience and self-esteem. Therapygenetics promises to deliver that opportunity more efficiently.
Jacinta Bourke is a counsellor and psychotherapist operating in the Ealing W5 and surrounding areas. She is a member of BACP - the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.