Evidence-based psychological treatments are now widely available within the NHS. In this blog, we explore the profound impact and potential of the Talking Therapies programme in effectively managing common mental health disorders.

Nour, PhD student

Meg, Postdoctoral Research Associate







Anxiety and depression are common mental health conditions that affect a significant portion of the population¹. Prompt identification and treatment are crucial. Fortunately, there are evidence-based pharmacological and psychological treatments for these conditions. Both types can be effective, however, many patients express a preference for psychological treatment².



In 2008, NHS England launched the Talking Therapies programme (formerly known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, or IAPT) to make evidence-based psychological treatments more accessible for individuals with common mental health disorders³. You may have heard people speak of psychotherapy, therapy or counselling – ‘talking therapies’ is another term for these treatments. The NHS Talking Therapies programme focuses on psychological treatments recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and individuals can self-refer or be referred by their GP.

Treatment begins with an initial assessment, during which patients discuss their concerns, symptoms, and therapy goals with a trained therapist. This helps tailor the treatment plan to the individual’s unique circumstances. NHS Talking Therapies services follow a stepped-care approach whereby patients initially receive the least intensive suitable treatment and can subsequently be stepped up or down, as necessary. An example of a low-intensity treatment is self-help guided by a mental health professional. High-intensity treatments include talking therapies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy. The length and duration of therapy vary depending on factors such as condition severity, individual progress, and overall goals. Some individuals may benefit from short-term therapy with a specific number of sessions, while others may require longer-term support.


From April 2021 to March 2022, NHS Talking Therapies received over 1.8 million  referrals4.  Of the patients who received treatment, approximately 50% achieved recovery, such that their symptom levels transitioned from above clinical case thresholds to below. Furthermore, over 60% of patients experienced reliable reductions in their symptoms.

It’s important to acknowledge that there is still a long way to go before treatment becomes suitable for everyone. Recovery rates remain lower than desired, leaving ample room for improvement. Inclusivity in mental health treatment is one aspect that requires attention. Currently, psychological therapies primarily focus on existing evidence-based approaches that may not be suitable or culturally appropriate for everyone. Recognising and catering to the diverse needs and backgrounds of patients is necessary to ensure accessible and relevant treatment options. Another significant issue is the average waiting times for treatment within the service. Timely intervention is crucial for avoiding further distress and potentially worsening of symptoms, yet some services experience lengthy waiting times. This is likely attributable to the imbalance between the demand for these services and the number of therapists. Prioritising reduced waiting times is essential to ensure individuals receive care when needed.

The availability of psychological treatments within the NHS is crucial for improving mental health care for individuals struggling with anxiety and depression. These evidence-based therapies enable patients to work with skilled professionals to develop effective coping mechanisms, challenge negative thought patterns, and ultimately enhance their overall well-being and quality of life. 


If you have been experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, visit your GP to discuss your options. There are many useful services online, such as information on local peer support groups and self-help techniques, as well as confidential helplines if you want someone to talk to. We have listed some of them below. There are also more specialised services, for example for LGBTQ+ individuals, or that are faith and culturally sensitive. 

Samaritans (Confidential support for people experiencing distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide)
www.samaritans.org.uk Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)

Mind (Mental health charity providing advice and support as well as raising awareness).
http://mind.org.uk/ Phone: 0300 123 3393 (local rate, Mon – Fri 9am – 6pm)

Peer support group https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/side-by-side-our-online-community/

England: Find your local NHS Talking Therapies (self-referral possible, CAMHS services available for under 18s)


Outside of England, speak to your GP about referral to mental health services. 






Northern Ireland


https://www.ocduk.org/overcoming-ocd/accessing-ocd-treatment/accessing-ocd-treatment-through-the-nhs/northern-ireland/ (the treatment pathway is similar for anxiety and depression)



  1. McManus, S., Bebbington, P., Jenkins, R. & Brugha, T. Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014. (2016).
  2. McHugh, R. K., Whitton, S. W., Peckham, A. D., Welge, J. A., & Otto, M. W. (2013). Patient preference for psychological vs pharmacologic treatment of psychiatric disorders: a meta-analytic review. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74(6), 595–602.
  3. Clark, D. M. (2011). Implementing NICE guidelines for the psychological treatment of depression and anxiety disorders: the IAPT experience. International Review of Psychiatry, 23(4), 318–327.
  4. Population Health, Clinical Audit and Specialist Care Team & NHS Digital. (2022) Psychological Therapies, Annual report on the use of IAPT services, 2021-22. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/psychological-therapies-annual-reports-on-the-use-of-iapt-services/annual-report-2021-22 
Nour Kanso

Author Nour Kanso

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