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Greater access and commitment to psychological therapies is vital

18 September 2014 Ruth Bentley

One in four people experiences mental distress in any one year,1 and this number is due to rise. Psychological therapies are widely recognized as effective treatments for a range of mental health problems, including schizophrenia. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends many forms of psychological therapy as first-line interventions, yet a new report by the ‘We Need to Talk’ coalition reveals there are huge variations in referral rates and waiting times around the country, and mental health services are unable to cope with demand.

According to the coalition, one in ten people wait over 1 year between referral and assessment, while 41% wait more than 3 months. These long waiting times can have a negative impact on patients’ lives, leading to greater stress, family breakdown, social isolation, financial problems, job losses and, in extreme cases, suicide attempts. The report also highlights that most people accessing psychological therapies have minimal choice in what treatment they have and when and where they receive it.

Psychological therapies have been shown to improve social functioning, reduce positive and negative symptoms, and decrease mood disturbances in people with schizophrenia. As discussed in the report Schizophrenia: Time to Commit to Policy Change, substantial evidence already supports the use of psychosocial therapies in schizophrenia, including cognitive remediation, social skills training and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which has been shown by NICE to be cost-effective when used alongside medication.2

Despite this evidence and investment in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT), it appears that psychotherapy services are being cut. A joint survey by the the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and the British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) reveals that 46% of therapists report an increase in waiting times over the last year and 56% report shorter courses of treatment.3

The We Need to Talk coalition is calling on the next government to make access to talking therapies an immediate priority after the election, ensuring the NHS in England offers a full range of evidence-based psychological therapies to everyone who needs them within 28 days of requesting a referral.

“We know that in some parts of the country investment in IAPT and other models has transformed lives as people have been able to access the help they need when they need it,” said Paul Farmer, Chair of the We Need to Talk coalition. “But far too many are facing unacceptably long waits or are struggling to even get a referral. This simply isn’t good enough.”

1. Goldberg D, Huxley P. Common mental disorders: a bio-social model. Routledge, 1992.

2. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. 2014. Psychosis and schizophrenia in adults: treatment and management. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/Guidance/CG178 (Accessed 17 September 2014).

3. Summary findings from the UK Council for Psychotherapy and British Psychoanalytic Council members’ survey, February 2013. Available from: https://www.bpc.org.uk/sites/psychoanalytic-council.org/files/Summary%20findings%20from%20NHS%20survey.pdf (Accessed 17 September 2014).


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