Relapse on the Road to Recovery: Learning the Lessons of Failure on the Way to Successful Behavior Change


DiClemente, C. C., & Crisafulli, M. A. (2022). Relapse on the road to recovery: learning the lessons of failure on the way to successful behavior change. Journal of Health Service Psychology, 48(2).


Among individuals seeking to change health-related behaviors, relapse is a common experience. Whether it occurs very soon after initiating a change attempt or after several years of sustained changed behavior, it can be discouraging for patients and clinicians alike. Although there is a tendency in healthcare to try to ignore failure, we posit that moving on too quickly results in missed opportunities to learn critical lessons that may promote successful change in the future. In this paper, we use addictive behavior as a lens through which to explore the phenomenon of relapse. We review key insights from the Transtheoretical Model (TTM), including the importance of debriefing failure to promote successive approximation learning while recycling through stages of change. We also offer practical, evidence-based strategies for working effectively with relapse in clinical practice, which we suggest creates a more integrated, client-centered, and personalized approach to care.

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