Home Healthcare Healthcare Services Where to access mental healthcare and therapy in the UK
Last update on January 17, 2022

Talking therapy in the UK is becoming more widely available on the NHS and is expected to expand over the next few years.

Talking therapy is a broad term covering various therapies to try to help people deal with negative thoughts and feelings and make positive changes, such as counseling, cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT), and psychotherapy. The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) provides information for anyone interested in learning more about different types of talking therapy or hearing the experiences of people who have used them.

COVID-19 in the UK


The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone. Many expats find themselves separated from family and loved ones in their home countries. As a foreigner, it is also sometimes difficult to find critical information regarding coronavirus infection rates, local measures, and restrictions, and now, thankfully, vaccinations. For general coronavirus health information in the UK, including vaccination schedules and locations, visit the NHS Coronavirus (COVID-19) website.

For official COVID-19 measures, rules, and restrictions in the UK, consult our guide on the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.

Mental healthcare through your GP in the UK

It’s estimated that around half the GP surgeries in England provide counseling services and support.

However, the availability of services varies depending on where you live and in some parts of the country, especially rural areas or small towns, NHS therapy is in short supply. You may have to wait a long time or travel to find something suitable.

Your GP’s personal views about talking therapy can also affect your access to it. Some GPs are more likely to refer you for therapy than others. According to an online survey by MHF, only 42% of people who visited their GP with depression were offered counseling, although 82% of them would have been willing to try it.

If your GP is unwilling to refer you for talking therapy, you may have to find out for yourself what’s available in your area and push hard to get it. Alternatively, change to another GP who’s willing to refer you.

However, access to NHS talking therapy will improve over the next few years. It is government policy to make counseling and other talking treatments, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), more easily available on the NHS.

The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program, which began in 2006, is putting thousands more trained therapists into general practices. The scheme will provide easy access to talking treatment on the NHS to everyone who needs it.

Your GP can refer you for talking treatment that is free on the NHS. This will usually be a short course of counseling or CBT from the general practice’s counseling service.

If counseling or CBT aren’t available at the surgery, your GP can refer you to a local counselor or therapist for NHS treatment.

You may also be able to refer yourself for counseling. The IAPT program means more and more primary care trusts (PCTs) are introducing the option of self-referral.

Self-referral means that people who prefer not to talk to their GP can go directly to a professional therapist. The service is already available in some parts of England. To find out what’s available in your area see our psychological therapy services directory.

If you have a serious mental health condition, such as severe depression, or a history of trauma or abuse, your GP can help you decide whether it would be better for you to see a different mental health professional, such as a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, psychiatrist or a member of the local community mental health team.

Going private

If you can afford it, you can choose to pay for your therapy. The cost of talking therapy varies and a one-hour session can cost between GBP 40 and GBP 100.

In the first instance, ask your GP if they can suggest a local private therapist. If you still need help, you can find a private therapist using the Internet, libraries or the Yellow Pages.

There are no rules governing who can advertise talking therapy services, so it’s essential to check that the therapist is listed on one of the registers of approved practitioners. Talk to several therapists before you decide which one is right for you.

The following organizations have approved therapists:


Some charities offer cheap or free talking therapies. These include:

  • Cruse for bereavement care,
  • Beat for help with eating disorders,
  • Mind for mental health problems,
  • Relate for relationship counseling.

Some employers provide counseling for their employees and many colleges and universities offer free therapy to students who need it.

Facing discrimination

Getting talking treatment on the NHS can be more difficult for some groups, such as black and elderly people, even though they’re just as entitled to it and as likely to benefit from it as anyone else.

Whatever your background, you have the right to be offered talking treatment if it could help you. You can expect NHS services to do everything they can to improve your access to talking treatment. Ask your GP for a referral for talking treatment if you think it could help you.