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 counselling, cognitive behavioural 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.
It’s estimated that around half the GP surgeries in England provide counselling 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 percent of people who visited their GP with depression were offered counselling, although 82 percent 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 counselling and other talking treatments, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), more easily available on the NHS.
The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, 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.
If you want to try a talking therapy, ask your GP, who will be aware of what’s available locally.
On the NHS
Your GP can refer you for talking treatment that is free on the NHS. This will usually be a short course of counselling or CBT from the general practice’s counselling service.
If counselling or CBT aren’t available at the surgery, your GP can refer you to a local counsellor or therapist for NHS treatment.
You may also be able to refer yourself for counselling. The IAPT programme 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.
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 organisations have approved therapists:
- British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP): cognitive behavioural therapists
- Association for Family Therapy (AFT): family therapists
- British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP): counsellors and therapist
- British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC): psychoanalytic psychotherapists
- UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP): psychotherapists
- British Association for Sexual and Relationship Therapy (BASRT): couples counselling and sex 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 counselling.
Some employers provide counselling for their employees and many colleges and universities offer free therapy to students who need it.
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.